According to recent analysis of U.S. government data, fentanyl overdoses in 2020 became the number one cause of death among U.S. adults between the ages of 18 to 45. It now surpasses automobile accidents, cancer, suicide and Covid 19 deaths. Government officials have declared the opioid overdose epidemic to be a national emergency.
I remember a conversation I had with a gentleman several years ago, whose son struggled with drug addiction. I asked him, “Why do you think young people get into drugs? Why do they take a pill that they know is highly addictive and has the potential to kill them?” The father’s response, “I wish I knew.”
I then read to him these words from a book titled Straw Dogs by John Gray. It is not a faith-based book. Gray says, “
“Drug use is a tacit admission of a forbidden truth [in Western culture.]” What is that truth? It is that “for most people happiness is beyond reach.” Human life is unavoidably hard and unhappy for the vast majority of people and always will be. In the secular worldview, all happiness and meaning must be found in this lifetime and world. To live with any hope, then, secular people must believe that we can eliminate most sources of unhappiness for the majority of people. But that is impossible. The causes of suffering are infinitely complex and impossible to eliminate. In a startling admission, Gray argues this very point, that religious cultures were able by the nature of their beliefs to be far more realistic about how common human misery is.
He says modern societies like ours cannot admit the normal unhappiness of life. After reading this to my friend he responded, “I think this is spot on.”
I truly believe that modern people are on a search for good feelings, because they have come to equate happiness with good feelings. And of course, we naturally believe pleasure and pleasurable experiences produce good feelings. This explains why people have elevated the pursuit of good feelings (even those who look to drugs for these good feelings) into a philosophy of life.
The problem is that people are discovering that the pursuit of pleasure does not lead to lasting happiness. We over-emphasize the importance of pleasure and in the process fail to live wisely. Over time, we experience a life full of thrills and good feelings, but in the end, we experience an emptiness that is accompanied by a host of destructive consequences. So many people are finding the pursuit of happiness to be quite elusive.
I tell men all the time; “You can go to the finest resorts in the world, play on the greatest golf courses, eat at the best restaurants, drink expensive wine, have the greatest sex, but when you wake up the next morning, there is an emptiness. You have to go back and reproduce the thrill over and over again.”
God gave us the gift of pleasure to be enjoyed within certain parameters. It can bring great delight into your life, but can never satisfy or make you happy. It was never meant to.
God never intended happiness to be the object of life. Instead, it is a by-product of the person you become and the kind of life you live.
In his landmark book, The History of Happiness, Dr. Darrin McMahon says that there is an approach to happiness that is not as obvious to modern people and is somewhat counterintuitive. It is the path of virtue. McMahon says this is more of an age-old approach of “tying happiness to higher things: to God, virtue, or the right ordering of the soul.” Happiness is considered a reward for living well.
If you study the teaching of Jesus, you never hear Him say “I came to fill your life with fun and good feelings.” In fact, He never seemed to be concerned with how His disciples felt. He always focused on the heart and soul, and how crucial it is to know wisdom and truth. Most significantly He wanted them to focus on their relationship with Him.
The bottom line is that modern people are very focused on good feelings and pleasurable experiences. God is more interested in the type of people we are becoming and the quality of life we are living.
Over the years I have had men ask me how they can transform their lives. My response is always, “You alone can’t, because you are not able to change your heart.” I explain that God must transform us, and it begins with a relationship with Him. The deeper we go in our relationship with God, the greater the transformation we will experience in our lives.
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.