The battle cry of a generation!
That’s how American actor Andy Samberg described the phrase YOLO! 1
It is true after all. You only live once.
But so what? What are the implications of the truth that you only live once?
This is how my generation understands it. Since you only live once, you should only do what makes you happy. Anything else would be a waste of time!
We may not have got everything right, but we sure did get this one right. Pursue happiness. You only live once!
But what is it that makes us happy?
We told people to follow their dreams — pursue careers that they were passionate about… We asked people to get rid of things if it did not spark joy… We asked people to prioritise self-care… We want to do what makes us happy. But there doesn’t seem to be a clear 3-step process for how to be happy.
Allow me to offer two thoughts on the happiness equation:
Think beyond now
Consider this: You decided to finally sit down and finish those 2 pending tasks that have been stressing you out for the past two weeks. Before beginning you decide to quickly check if there are any new messages. And true enough. There’s a DM on Instagram. You type out a quick reply and then you tell yourself you’ll check if there are any new posts for a couple of seconds. Before you know it, you’ve been scrolling through reels for more than 45 minutes. And now you feel miserable about yourself.
What just happened?
The desire to check Instagram for just a few minutes is a desire for instant gratification (or instant happiness). Had you ignored the desire for instant happiness and finished the work you set out to do, you would have received satisfaction and joy far greater than that which Instagram gave. Moreover, this joy would come without the guilt. Greater but delayed.
Foregoing instant gratification is thinking long term… And thinking long-term gives greater happiness.
Think beyond self
Consider this: you’re curled up on a sofa with a blanket, and hot chocolate, and buried deep in an Agatha Christie novel. You’re happy! But you’re not thinking about your happiness. You’re thinking about the mystery of the story. Or maybe you’re watching the Lord of the Rings for the 7th time with homemade popcorn. You’re happy! But you’re not thinking about your happiness. You’re lost in Middle Earth thinking about how cool the battle of Pelennor fields really is. Or maybe, you’re with your close friends playing your favourite card game while sipping on soda and munching on Pringles. You’re happy! But you’re not thinking about your happiness. You’re thinking about how to win the game (or how to make a funny joke).
The irony is that you’re happy when you’re not thinking about whether you’re happy. Engagement with the world and looking outside self is usually the key to truly being happy. We are happy when we are focused on work, a hobby, or a loved one. We are happy when we are focused on something other than ourselves; not when we are focused on caring for ourselves. This is also why serving others leads to greater joy than expecting others to serve you.
The ultimate happiness
Ultimately, what do these two truths point us to?
We are happy when we think beyond time. This is because we have been created for eternity.
God has put eternity in our hearts (Eccl 3:11) so that our hearts are restless until they find ‘eternal’ rest in God, the author of time.
We are happy when we look outside of ourselves. This is because we were made to be worshipping creatures. We find our greatest joy in doing what we were made to do — focus, dwell on, think about and enjoy the beauty of God. (Psalm 16:11, John 15:10-11)
Happiness is found in worshipping God
You Only Live Once. Do what makes you happy.
And I’ll tell you what makes you happy.
Being Indian and Christian
Being Indian and Christian is my weekly newsletter in which I try to understand the world (popular culture or news and events from India or around the world) from a Christian world-view. If that’s something you’re interested in, I’d be honoured if you signed up!