The Pursuit of Happiness…Is Killing Us

“I just want to be happy” was the short sentence a friend of mine said when he told me he was getting divorced. He had given up on his nearly 40-year marriage and just wanted to be happy. I asked him if, perhaps, he had the wrong goal.

Another concern I have with having “happy” as a goal is that it often seems to be associated with relieving some type of emotional pain, like with my friend. He’s not here to answer the question, but I’m curious if the decision to be happy also kept him aligned with his beliefs and values? Did it restore the integrity to the situation? Did it lead to developing character and emotional maturity?

As Jeff and I were discussing the major topics for Tender Lions I mentioned that I thought the motivation to be happy was causing our society to actually become weaker, less emotionally healthy, and too short-termed focused. This is the antithesis of the imago dei (being made in the image and likeness of God). Here’s what Jeff had to say.

Jeff – My first response was “This is dumb. You’re wrong. We’re all trying to pursue our own happiness.” But as we spoke about the topic I began to change my perspective. Josh Medcalf in Burn Your Goals wrote, “Live by principles rather than feelings.” Feelings are the short-term fixes or immediate gratification that we seek…or the short-term fix toward happiness. He goes on to say, “At the end of your feelings is nothing, but at the end of every principle is a promise.” Living without principles is like treading water. You can stay alive for the moment, but you’re not going anywhere. And it’s exhausting. In addition, our feelings frequently lie to us.

Brian – And happiness depends on happenings. Joy, fulfillment, contentment, and inner-satisfaction come from a much deeper place. Knowing that my very life was made possible because I am made in the image of God brings much deeper meaning to my life.

JeffSo are we pursuing happiness or wholeness? Feelings or principles? Over the years I’ve worked with thousands of young men at basketball camps and my own basketball academy. We developed a reputation for being Arizona’s premier organization for basketball development, competitive play, and student athlete collegiate recruiting.

I’ve made promises to my players and families. Foremost, the parents of our players made serious commitments of time, money, and energy, and in return I strive to mold better young men through basketball. Second, I promise to be the best trainer, coach and role model possible for them. It’s vital that I provide a consistent message that is positive, motivating, and aligned with my beliefs and values about faith, work ethic, and character. Happy is definitely not the goal.

Recently, “Sean” a very talented 14-year old came to me for advice. He was receiving a lot of pressure to perform from his dad. During one of the games, Sean’s frustration boiled over. His coach took him out of the game. As he sat on the bench, he punched the chair as hard as he could and screamed an expletive, all very unusual for him. His frustration and pressure to perform was just too much for him.

On the bus ride home, Sean politely asked if he could speak with me about the situation. “I look up to you a lot,” he confided. “I really see you more as someone between my big brother and father-figure.” That certainly got my attention!

Let’s be clear, this situation was not about making Sean happy. He depended on me and looked up to me at a time when he needed to be listened to and to receive sound advice. These types of conversations, which happen way more often than you might imagine, are not about basketball. They are about life skills that involve listening deeply, empathy, communicating transparently, and helping young men focus on their imago dei. It’s also important that I have these delicate conversations without undermining the authority or respect for the young man’s dad.

Because these conversations matter so much it’s essential that I stay grounded and humble. Living by these principles help us develop better young men. These principles are much more important than any pursuit of happiness.

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This blog is an edited excerpt from Tender Lions: Building the Vital Relationship Between Father and Son

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