Why Being “Blessed” is Better than Being “Happy”

Our culture is obsessed with happiness. From the movies we watch, the purchases we make, and our obsessive use of technology and social media, it is clear that many people today live for happiness.

You might be thinking, “So what? Isn’t happiness a good thing?” Well, that depends on what is meant by happiness. In his book Happiness is a Serious Problem, Dennis Prager argues that the common definition of happiness today is H = nF. In other words, happiness is equivalent to the number (n) of fun (F) experiences we can accumulate in a lifetime. The more fun experiences, the happier we are. To be happy is to feel good and have fun.

blessed better happy

Prager explains, “Most people believe that happiness and fun are virtually identical. Ask them, for example, to imagine a scene of happy people. Most people will immediately conjure up a picture of people having fun (e.g. laughing, playing games, drinking at a party).”[1]

Pleasure is certainly not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, God designed us as embodied beings to experience remarkable pleasure. But can pleasure-seeking in itself ultimately bring a meaningful life?

The Futility of a Pleasure-Seeking Life

King Solomon, who had all the pleasures the world could possibly offer, wrote millennia ago about the emptiness that comes from seeking pleasure as the purpose of life:

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine…till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life…So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem…And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3, 9-11).

In his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman notes that there was a tenfold increase in depression among Baby Boomers over any previous generation. Why? According to his analysis, it is because Boomers were the first generation to focus on their own pleasure as the goal of life. According to Seligman, lasting happiness occurs when people outgrow their obsessive concern with personal feelings and live for something beyond themselves.

The paradox of happiness is that if we seek it, we won’t find it. True happiness comes when we stop focusing our own feelings, and lovingly seek the best for others. This is (partly) why Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Seek yourself first, and your life will be empty. Seek God first, and you will have a meaningful life filled with genuine happiness—whether you feel good or not.

Blessedness

The Bible has a different view of the goal of human life. Rather than living for happiness (understood as having certain feelings and experiences), Scripture teaches that the goal of life is to love God and love other people (Mark 12:28-34). When we do love God, and seek His glory, we are “blessed” regardless of how we feel.

Consider Psalms 1, which opens the book with these words: “Blessed is the man.” If you read Psalm 1 closely, you will notice that it is not about feelings, but about being right with God. The “blessed man” is not the one who has amassed endless material gain, has a fun job, has become a YouTube star, or accumulated endless fun experiences. Rather, the blessed man is the one who “delights in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night” (v. 2).

The Psalmist compares the blessed man, who prospers in all he does, to a healthy tree, planted by streams of water (v. 3). But the wicked man is driven away by the wind and ultimately perishes (v. 4-5). In his commentary on Psalms, Willem VanGemeren explains what blessedness means in this passage:

The formula “Blessed is the man” evokes joy and gratitude, as man may live in fellowship with his God. Blessedness is not deserved; it is a gift of God. God declares sinners to be righteous and freely grants them newness of life in which he protects them from the full effects of the world under judgment (Gen 3:15–19). Outside of God’s blessing, man is “cursed” and ultimately leads a meaningless life (Eccl 1:2). The word “happy” is a good rendition of “blessed,” provided one keeps in mind that the condition of “bliss” is not merely a feeling. Even when the righteous do not feel happy, they are still considered “blessed” from God’s perspective. He bestows this gift on them. Neither negative feelings nor adverse conditions can take his blessing away.[2]

Amen.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


[1] Dennis Prager, Happiness is a Serious Problem (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), 44.

[2] Willem A. VanGemeren, “Psalms,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (ed. Frank E. Gaebelein; vol. 5; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991), 553.

 


 

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11 replies
  1. Ed Vaessen says:

    I think it is clear. It is not about loving other people. Goodness to other people is only mentioned once in this opening post. In reality it is only about loving God. Or better said: it is about loving the opinion of people that have a particular view of a supernatural being.
    Now I understand why so many fundamentalist Christians can hate homosexuals. They love the opinion of people that hate homosexuals and call that hate the love of God. They do not love people.

    Erm… who is going to tell Sean McDowell that het does not love people?

    Reply
    • Louie says:

      Ed: No, it is not clear if that is what you are thinking. What does Jesus tell us are the two greatest commandments? #1-Love God with your whole heart, whole soul, whole mind and whole strength. #2-Love thy neighbor as thyself.

      Reply
      • toby says:

        Okay . . . so your neighbor is a gay person that wants to marry their mate. Where does “love the sinner, hate the sin” fit into that? Where do you get to tell someone else how to live?

        Reply
        • Louie says:

          toby: Hold up a minute, who is telling them how to live? Me or scripture? You are judging Christians that are holding to the rules set forth by scripture. They are not making it up, it is written for all to see. Scripture tells me what is sinful, and I walk the path doing as good a job as I can. In the end, I don’t worry about it, because God will judge everyone and only he knows what is in mans heart. So, I am not telling them how to live, I can point out that it is sinful according to scripture, but the choice is theirs. God offers the path to salvation and allows you to mess up along the way, but in the end He will hold everyone accountable for decisions made.

          Reply
  2. Ed Vaessen says:

    Louie says:
    “Ed: No, it is not clear if that is what you are thinking. What does Jesus tell us are the two greatest commandments? #1-Love God with your whole heart, whole soul, whole mind and whole strength. #2-Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

    The emphasis in the article of McDowell is on number 1, not on number 2.
    I can imagine a non-Christian being a good person. Such a person does not love the God of the Christians because he/she doesn’t believe in the existence of that being. So what does number 1 mean exactly as being part of the goal of our life? And what exactly is being ‘blessed’?

    Reply
    • Louie says:

      Ed:
      If you don’t believe in God, then why are you getting caught up in what His commandments are?
      “Blessed” is the authors term, I was having trouble with that word myself.

      Reply
    • Louie says:

      I didn’t say that, I said I was having trouble with it in the article above. I try and be more careful with what words I use and when, since the meaning can change based on context. I just went and looked at the word’s definition using google. I feel sorry for someone who is unclear of the words definition, and is trying to decipher what it means based on this article and google.

      Reply
      • Ed Vaessen says:

        It seems the article of mr. McDowell is not very clear. You read it and cannot explain what he means with the word ‘blessed’.

        Reply
        • Louie says:

          All he would need to do, is define terms and it would be clear. I think I get what he is talking about, but I will not define his terms for him.

          Reply

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