The ‘secret of happiness’ is a prize coveted by so many people in the Western world today. The idea of happiness is worshiped as the highest goal in life, as the most important thing. If I could just be happy, we think, then my life will be okay. This goal is the topic of news reports (how happy is Britain?) and it sells books; it’s a darling of the media. And why shouldn’t it be? What’s wrong with wanting to be happy?
In a sense, nothing. There is certainly nothing wrong with actually being happy. But one of my favourite songs at the moment is a song by the band Switchfoot called ‘Happy is a Yuppie Word’. There is one line in particular in that song that strikes me every time I listen to it and it goes like this:
Happy is a yuppie word; blessed is the man who’s lost it all.
What’s a ‘yuppie word’? Well a ‘yuppie’ is an American slang term short for ‘young urban professional’, basically meaning a young middle-class professional who works in the city and has a pretty comfortable, ‘luxurious’ (according to Google) lifestyle. How many yuppies actually exist nowadays is questionable, but for my point it’s the ideology behind it that’s important.
The way I understand the song, the phrase ‘happy is a yuppie word’ means that ‘happy’ is a word suitable for a world of young, well-off professionals with middle-class lives and middle-class dreams. It is a word associated with the city, maybe with the so-called ‘American dream’, and, most importantly, with money.
Here are a few other lines from the song:
I’m running down a life that won’t cash out.
Everyone buys; everyone’s got a price.
I don’t believe the emptiness.
Nothing is sound.
You see, this goal of happiness has become a Western idol. And why is that bad? Because an idol doesn’t satisfy. To be happy you need to have this, do this, be this. You need to strive for it and you’re never going to get there. Why? Because it’s a ridiculous goal if you think about it. Being happy is great; I hope that everyone has a reason to be happy in their lives, but it is not the be all and end all of being human.
To be human is to experience a wide range of emotions, not to single out just one. It is to feel sadness the passing of a loved one, to feel anger at injustice, to feel love, hope, determination, and pain. I don’t think there’s even a name for most of the complex emotions that we go through every week. How fake would a life of supposed happiness be? How could that life involve any sort of interaction with the real world?
Happy is a yuppie word and in the real world we don’t really have yuppies, we have people. The ‘yuppie’ is a stereotype centred on money, careers and an American dream with the stink of unbridled capitalism. My goal is not to live a life ruled by that ideology.
Instead, I believe in a God who doesn’t deny me the fullness of the human condition that He created me in. More than that, I believe in a God who experienced the fullness of that condition Himself in order that we might know Him more. I don’t seek happiness, but I do seek His blessings. So if the yuppies are happy, who’s blessed?
The poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
The meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
The merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
The pure in heart, for they will see God.
The peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
As the song goes, ‘blessed is the man who’s lost it all’.
I don’t want to strive for happiness. I want to be human in all the fullness and satisfaction of a life bought by blood, not money. My goal is to know the peace and the joy that God promises even as I experience all the pain and the anger and the hope and the happiness that human life brings with it.
Happiness is an idol as surely as were Zeus and Anubis; in the end it won’t be enough for you and you’ll be left out on your own. In a world where, as Switchfoot put it, nothing is sound. I want to hold on to the one thing greater than this world that is.