Why Happiness is the Wrong Pursuit
Article by Christine Carter
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Everybody wants to be happy. Many consider happiness the goal of life. Yet, our Christian faith calls us to something different: finding meaning in the gospel, regardless of the cost. Research suggests that pursuing meaning in life is often accompanied by happiness. Pastors have an opportunity to use sermons to invite parishioners to pursue meaning in the gospel of Jesus. Happiness in life is never guaranteed, but happiness can often be found in a meaning-filled life.

Pastors can invite parishioners to reflect on their ultimate goal in life. Pastors might highlight ways our culture idolizes happiness or invite the congregation to tell stories of when serving others gave them meaning. Ultimately, pastors can use sermons to proclaim the gospel and invite listeners to find their meaning in the greatest story ever told – the story of Jesus Christ.

“Although we claim that the ‘pursuit of happiness’ is our inalienable right and the primary driver of the human race, we humans do better pursuing fulfillment and meaning—creating lives that generate the feeling that we matter.”

-Christine Carter

What to Consider

  • Is happiness an appropriate goal? Why or why not? If not, what would be an appropriate goal for individuals?
  • Why do you think a meaning-filled life is so often accompanied by happiness, while pursuing happiness is often devoid of meaning?
  • What stories can you tell that might invite listeners to critically reflect on the places they find meaning in life?

How to Go Deeper

  • After a worship service, hold a Mission Fair. Invite leaders from congregational ministries and community organizations to share the ways they are serving others. Make sure to have sign-up sheets so that participants can volunteer to serve.
  • Ask three people to share stories. Have the first person share about a time they pursued happiness and did not find meaning, the second person share a time they pursued meaning and did not find happiness, and the third person share a time they found both meaning and happiness.
  • Set aside one Sunday to celebrate the lives of Christian martyrs and those who are currently being persecuted for their Christian faith. Read Acts 7:54-60 as well as other accounts of martyrs. Highlight how their lives with filled with meaning in the midst of tough times.
  • Read 1 Kings 21:1-29 or 2 Samuel 11:26-12:15, two stories of when unchecked pursuit of happiness led to the death of others, personal harm, and a severed relationship with God. Then share this research on pursuing happiness over meaning and make connections to the ways we pursue happiness over meaning, often at the expense of others. Possible connections could include creation care and the exploitation of global resources, relationships with family members, friends, or colleagues, or financial stewardship.

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

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About the Author:

Zach is currently a PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary researching the role of leaders in congregational change. His calling in life is to train and equip pastors to faithfully lead local congregations. When not studying, he'll most likely be watching Sporting Kansas City score goals or hiking with his wife and two kids.


  1. Weabz May 7, 2017 at 4:59 am

    The only appropriate goal and reason for our existence is to seek God’s kingdom, His righteousness, and ultimate to glorify Him. Plain and simple. Yet in doing that He provides not only happiness, but hope and peace.

    • AustinF May 19, 2017 at 3:00 pm

      Yes sir! And even deeper — joy. Something that is present even in the midst of unhappiness/sadness.

      • Weabz May 21, 2017 at 5:20 am

        I was just thinking about that, and add to it Hope. Because amid everything we have going on in life, when we have a Christ centered life or simply view life in light of eternity…NO matter what comes, the hope remains. The hope and promise of adoption and to be with Him where He is. When I think about that everything else fades away, and I’m reminded my “meaning” and joy and hope and happiness is securely founded in Him.

  2. aidenkang May 23, 2017 at 12:16 am

    Happiness is a byproduct of a greeter goal (i.e. Being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ).

  3. aidenkang May 23, 2017 at 12:19 am

    Stories we can tell would be athletes, celebrities, etc who achieve everything the world defines as the “good life”, only to discover after achieving it, that our hearts are restless until we rest in Him.

    • Zach Ellis June 6, 2017 at 5:25 pm

      Great idea! Have you checked out I Am Second (http://www.iamsecond.com). They’ve got a lot of stories from famous folks who put Jesus first.

      • aidenkang June 8, 2017 at 4:21 pm

        Thanks for the recommendation – Will check it out. I actually had David Foster Wallace in mind, specifically his commencement speech at Kenyon College.

  4. JarrodCraw May 23, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    I think that this research could also be applied to couples – does God call us to merely be happy in marriage and should that be the purpose in marriage?

  5. matt@ncstudycenter.org July 7, 2017 at 4:01 pm

    “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these other things shall be added unto you…”

  6. marymact@gmail.com August 12, 2017 at 12:15 pm

    The campus ministry I worked for used a clip of Tom Brady talking about his drive to be the best and find happiness and how he continually came up short.

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