(Part 1 of the word studies related to the Wood Family Covenant. These notes written to organize my thoughts, but will be largely rephrased for kids’ understanding, or so it is to be hoped! This is also a partial answer to an earlier blog, Longing, beyond.)
My family’s childrens’ dictionary defines “happy” as “a feeling of joy or pleasure.” But “happy” is also defined elsewhere as “contentment,” and it is this the definition that one should strive towards. Happiness, as an extended state of bliss, is simply not attainable.
If one were to map out the high and low points of one’s day, or life, it would be a series of ups and downs. If everything was an “up”, it would be a flat line, or “normal” and expected. To have a “high” from there would require an increased level of pleasure beyond the current state. Thus the pursuit of happiness becomes a ratcheting upward climb towards stronger, higher and different pleasures, which in the end is a treadmill of running to stand still. Addictions are an example of this law of diminishing returns.
Thus the importance of gratitude: by living in a sense of thankfulness, one is more able to appreciate the “goods” and pleasures in one’s life, big or small, and remain longer satisfied at the current “plateau” level of happiness. This is contentment.
The fact that we have an appetite for a larger, more fulfilling “good” than we can find through selfish pursuits is an indicator that we ought to pursue a higher good, namely God. He has created each of us with that sense of longing for something beyond what we can find on earth through possessions, sensual pleasures, and horizontal relationships. When we try to fill the God-shaped-hole with anything but God, it is idolatry and will be ultimately unsatisfying.