Recently, the US Treasury redesigned and added new security features to the $100 bill. James E. Talmage once wrote, “[I]s it not true that even a butterfly, a beetle, or a bee may be a bearer of lessons to the receptive student?” If you can learn from a beetle, why not a $100 bill?
FIrst of all, I’m not writing this because I think I’ve got this figured out, I’m writing this because lately I haven’t been happy and now I think I know why. I’ve had a discouraging couple of weeks: a rejection letter from a career opportunity, the end of a relationship that I thought was going well, etc. But these anti-counterfeiting measures taught me something: you can’t accept counterfeit happiness. The things we chase to make ourselves happy–don’t. When we get them, we just get a temporary high and then start looking for the next big thing.
I think this is probably the reason behind our generation’s marriages failing at an alarming rate and study after study showing that we aren’t happy. Let’s face it, we are terrible at figuring out what makes us happy. Its like we’re constantly taking counterfeit bills, money that has no value because it isn’t authentic.
Authentic happiness is hard to define, but you can start to get a sense of it by understanding the difference between the purpose of life and the meaning of life. Remember that Christmas episode of the Office where Jim gave Pam a teapot full of inside jokes? The purpose of a teapot is simple, to make tea. But that wasn’t what made the teapot valuable, it was how he filled the teapot with meaning. In the same way, while the purpose of our lives is up for debate, the popular answers usually wind up being really pretty simple: be successful, do good in the world, follow a divine plan, etc. These answers are not wrong, but without something more–meaning–they just seem hollow and mechanical. The meaning of life, unlike its purpose, is something you create yourself, you decide what matters and why. (And if you, like me, believe in a divine plan, I think that the Author of that plan gave us the ability to choose in order to give us the opportunity to create meaning. Indeed, it may be so essential that the plan would not work without it.)
Our basic misunderstanding of happiness is this: we chase things that we think will make us happy instead of learning to become happy people. For example, it would be a serious mistake to go into a marriage thinking that it was the other person’s job to make you happy, but somewhat paradoxically, making your partner happy might help you find meaning. Cf. 1 John 4:19 (“We love him, because he first loved us.” emphasis added). One involves demanding and consuming while the other involves giving and creating. So I put it to you, which is more meaningful? Happiness that comes from demanding and consuming is nothing more than a counterfeit–it is not authentic because it carries no meaning.
This doesn’t mean that we have to give up the things we enjoy, but it does mean that we need to look at them differently. Try using these security features to detect and start avoiding counterfeit happiness:
1.The new $100 bill has a blue ribbon and bell that change as you tilt the note back and forth. As argued above, merely the attitude and perspective that you bring to an activity can change it from mechanical to meaningful. Try to look at things a little differently, stretch your creativity.
2. There is a water mark of Ben Franklin’s face that becomes visible when you hold the new bill up to the light. Everything we do should be able to be held up to the light. We should take a moment to examine if what we are doing is good. You shouldn’t waste your time doing something if you would be ashamed to have others find out about it. This is not to say you can’t have private things or guilty pleasures like belting out My Way along with Frank Sinatra in the car, just hold them up to the light to make sure they are worthwhile. On the other hand, would you be embarrassed if people could see how many times a day you check Facebook?
3. The micro-printing on the new bill puts small words on Ben Franklin’s jacket collar. These tiny letters are difficult to scan and copy. Sometimes it is the little things that set something apart. Learn to value the little things in life and stop waiting for something big that will someday make you happy. Remember the saying ‘truly wealthy people don’t have what they want, they want what they have.’ I would add that they also recognize what they have.
Best of luck!