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Happiness fascinates me.

Happiness is a mystery. It is enticing but elusive. It drowns in the commotion of life yet screams out from the depths of our hearts. Happiness is an idea that captivates us, inspires us, and moves us to action. It is the bedrock of our society, the wish in all our deepest dreams.

And happiness is a trap.

When I am down, I like to walk through the mall. The vibrant colors of the shops mesh with the colorful diversity of the people. Everywhere you look is a sign of life.

Some people are there with their family, pushing their kids in a stroller. Some are young and there with their friends, laughing and talking and bumping into each other. Some are there to exercise. You can tell because they are walking fast, making many laps.

Sometimes I like to look at everyone in the mall and realize that each one of them is a human being like me. Every last one of them has hopes and dreams and a story.

It’s an overwhelming but beautiful realization.

The other thing I notice when I walk through the mall is the advertisements. Many writers greater than me have written a social commentary on advertisements. They are a pillar of our society. But they are only one of the ways that happiness is sold.

Happiness is sold by car salesmen who conjure up images in our minds of a drive in the sunshine. It is sold by religious idealists who preach prosperity. It is sold by colleges who promise a steady, comfortable job at the end of a four-year journey. It is sold by employers who tell tall tales of the eventual success the company will enjoy. It is sold by parents who tell us that marriage will be the greatest adventure of our lives. It is sold by commercials, pop-ups, and even friends.

Each of these people is using our deep-rooted desire for lasting happiness to take our money, our energy, or our time. And believe me, we’re buying. We’re buying because we believe we need to find lasting happiness, somehow.

But as we all chase happiness, we’re all setting ourselves up for failure:

  • The girl who gets married because she believes she and her husband will live “happily ever after”.
  • The young boy who buys a new iPhone to try to fit in with the kids at school who don’t care about him.
  • The entrepreneur who believes that he will be happy once he owns a successful business.
  • The young woman who believes that her dream career will make her life the dream she’s looking for.
  • The aspiring musician who believes being on stage will light up his life and fulfill him.

Each of these people are looking for happiness in external factors. What about when the marriage goes on the rocks or the iPhone becomes boring? What about when the business’s success falters? What about when the dream career becomes impossible or routine? What about when the night is over, the crowd is gone, and the stage is quiet?

Here’s the secret about happiness.

What I’ve learned is that happiness is a choice. If we look for things to make us happy, we will depend on things to be happy. If we define our happiness by external factors, we will ever be “waiting on the world to change”.

True happiness comes from within. It comes from the decision that you’re going to live in a “beautiful state”, no matter what. And it comes from the deep-down realization that life has its ups and downs. You may not feel elation right now, if your car is broken down or your job is difficult. But soon there will be a sunny day with good friends and much laughter. You may not feel peace right now, if you are fighting with someone you care about. But soon, the fight will be over and you will move on. You will have stressful mornings and enchanted evenings, funny jokes and heartaches.

External happiness will always be temporary, and that’s okay.

Wouldn’t it be weird if you saw a commercial for a cool new vacuum, bought it, and then were magically happy for the rest of your life? Life doesn’t work that way, and that’s good.

You can count on life having its ups and downs. So enjoy the ride as much as you can. Don’t wait on the world to change. Decide to live in a beautiful state, no matter what’s going on around you.

Don’t fall for the lie. Your loyalty, your money, your time… others will try to buy them with the promise of happiness. But happiness won’t come. Not until you decide it must. And that comes from the inside.

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