Intersection of Life and Faith

<< iPod Devotionals, with Dave Burchett

Buying Happiness?

  • 2011 Nov 01

An article in the Dallas Morning News sets up this week’s iPod Devotional. Writer Pamela Yip started her piece with this startling fact.

The U.S. self-storage industry racked up more than $20 billion in revenue last year, according to the Self Storage Association. The industry has been the fastest-growing segment of the commercial real estate market over the last 30 years and has been considered by Wall Street analysts to be recession-resistant.

Much of the space in Americans’ storage units is taken up by the things they’ve bought in their never-ending frenzy of consumption, said James A. Roberts, author of Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy.

It is a sad commentary on this society that one of the real job creators is building and staffing facilities to store junk we don’t really need. The article continues with this question.

So why are consumers so enamored of all this consumption?

“We’re trying to fill a hole,” Roberts said. “We want to be happy and we’ve been told enough times that money or happiness can be purchased at the mall, online or from a catalog. We’ve been told that, and we’ve bought that hook, line and sinker.” The problem is, “instead of filling that hole, we just create a bigger vacuum,” Roberts said. “We keep on moving forward materially, but we get no closer to happiness,” he said.

Filling that vacuum has been the quest of people since the beginning of time. Writers, poets and songwriters have postured that money and things can buy happiness.

Singer Barrett Strong had a hit in 1959 with a songthat could be the theme for our consumer retail therapy.

Money don't get everything it's true,
What it don't get I can't use;

Well, now give me money, (That's what I want)
A lotta money, (That's what I want)

The Beatles did a cover of that song and then one year later reversed their course and sang that money “Can’t Buy Love”. Paul McCartney was asked about the deeper meaning of the song “Can’t Buy Me Love”. “The idea behind it was that all these material possessions are all very well, but they won’t buy me what I really want.” 

I’ll buy you a diamond ring my friend if it makes you feel alright
I’ll get you anything my friend if it makes you feel alright
‘Cause I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love

I’ll give you all I got to give if you say you love me too
I may not have a lot to give but what I got I’ll give to you
I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love

A couple of years later McCartney wondered if the lyrics were untrue.  “It should have been “Can Buy Me Love” when reflecting on the perks that money and fame had brought him. I wonder how Paul McCartney feels today with nearly fifty more years of life mileage on the odometer. I suspect he now feels the original idea was correct. Money really can’t buy you love.

It is a deception of the world that things and money can buy you love or happiness or peace. I will be honest and confess that I would prefer to have money over the alternative. But I have learned that money is in no way a predictor of happiness. Some of the most miserable people I know could buy and sell me with their pocket change. It is human nature to believe that more money, some possession gained or a title achieved will finally make us happy. Too often that is just not true.

I have been on both sides of the money thing. And I can tell you without reservation that money is unrelated to happiness. Happiness is seeing my wife at the end of a long day. Enjoying dinner with my wonderful sons (and daughter-in-laws). Laughing with friends. Being greeted by a Labrador Retriever that thinks I am the greatest human being. Ever.

Happiness is watching my Grandson cackle when I tickle him. Seeing a child’s innocent wonder. An elderly couple looking at one another with that look that only decades can develop. Happiness is seeing the sun rise and hearing the birds welcome that sight. Happiness is connecting with the One who made me. That is what I was created for and my happiness is found in the simplest things of life. There is joy all around us. I can choose to look for those things. Yet life happens and sometimes joy is a bit harder to choose.

In his letter to the church at Corinth Paul made the amazing statement that “I am overwhelmed with joy despite all our troubles.” (2 Cor 7:4, MSG)

Where does that attitude come from? I can guarantee it doesn’t come from stuff and shiny objects. Because we can “rent” what appears to be happiness for a season our culture continually confuses money and things with real happiness.

I choose to embrace life. I accept suffering because I am in relationship with a God who understands suffering and offers comfort that is inexplicable. Joni and I have stared down heartache and tragedy and found peace. Jesus had a thought or two on joy and the source.

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature.  This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love.”  (John 15, MSG)

I am nowhere close to saying that my joy is wholly mature. But I have hope as I write this. Hope that transcends sports cars, money, and even the difficulties of life. I have hope because I have found the source of joy. Paul wrote a joyful letter to the church at Philippi.

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.   Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.  (Phil 4, MSG)

The Beatles were right. Money and things can’t buy you love or lasting happiness. Placing Christ at the center of your life allows you to find joy. But you can’t buy that either. It is a gift of grace. The gift is available to anyone. We just have to receive it. And that gift is the only thing I have found that fills the vacuum all of us seek to fill.


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