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A Shortcut to Happiness: Why Accomplishing Your Goals Won’t Satisfy

woman riding on swing during sunset

Everybody loves a good shortcut.

I used to have a long commute. And in Los Angeles rush hour traffic, it could sometimes take over an hour to get to work. I drive the same way every day, and every day the traffic would start backing up at the exact same spot.

One day, frustrated at another morning stuck in traffic, I decided to try a GPS app someone had told me about. I punched in the address to my work and Waze immediately directed me to exit the freeway. I was a little nervous since I’d never gone that way before, and I was aware that it was taking me in the opposite direction of work. But I figured I was going to be late anyway, but as well try this new route.

And I’m glad I did. What Waze did was take me on a shortcut. I actually got to work early. Early! And as I continued to take this new shortcut day after day I was consistently shaving 10–20 minutes off of my commute. I’m so glad I tried that shortcut.

Everybody Wants to Be Happy

Everyone loves a good shortcut. And you know what else everyone wants? Everyone wants to be happy. The trouble is finding that thing that will satisfy us. Many spend their whole lives chasing their dreams—a career, stardom, a spouse, money, you name it—all in the hope that if they could just reach their goal, then they’ll finally be happy.

You might think Christians would be exempt from this kind of thinking. We know our ultimate joy awaits us in Heaven, so we certainly would never get bogged-down by civilian affairs, right? But we do chase temporal happiness, don’t we? Especially productivity-minded Christians. We are driven, we are goal-oriented, and sometimes we don’t stop to think, “what am I really after?”

But if we are honest with ourselves, we too are chasing happiness.

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The irony, for Christians, is that the thing that is driving us toward our goals—our search for happiness—is actually readily available to every saint who has trusted in Jesus Christ. I’m not talking about Heaven, though. In Christ, we can enjoy contentment even in the here in now. And contentment is a shortcut to happiness. It lets us achieve the thing we are hunting for in our goals and ambitions without even having to meet those goals!

What is Christian Contentment, And How Is It a Shortcut to Happiness?

That probably sounds good, “contentment is a shortcut to happiness,” but what exactly is contentment? Is it just not caring? Is it a blasé attitude toward our circumstances? Or maybe contentment is simply a synonym for apathy.

The concept of contentment isn’t exactly the kind of thing a productivity-minded person pumps their fist about. You won’t see a basketball team chant “1, 2, 3, contentment!” At least not one that’s winning very many games. For most of us, contentment sounds a little too much like giving up.

Contentment is the attitude that says, “whatever the Lord gives me it is enough.”

But Christian contentment is not some kind of Buddhist detachment from life. Quite the opposite. Christian contentment is meeting the events of life armed with the knowledge that you know the One in control of your circumstances and that you can trust that His will in any situation is always best. This knowledge results in an uncanny ability to embrace even the worst of circumstances without frustration, anger, or fear.

In the New Testament, the word which is most often translated as “content” is arkeo. And it can either mean “sufficient” or “enough” when used actively, or it can mean “content” or to be “satisfied” when used passively. So it’s kind of both sides of the coin. It can refer to the sufficiency of something, or it can refer to the effect of that sufficiency, the fact that it results in contentment. When something is sufficient, it satisfies. You are content.

For a longer discussion of contentment, check out Episode 52 – Contentment: The Ultimate Life Hack on the Redeeming Productivity Show podcast.

We see this word arkeo in passages like 2 Corinthians 12:9 when the apostle Paul is recounting God’s message to him. He says, “my grace is sufficient for you”—It’s arkeo for you, it’s sufficient for you. It’s enough. The implied result is that Paul should therefore be content with God’s grace, and not seek something in addition or apart from it to satisfy or strengthen him.

We also see contentment in Hebrews 13:5. It reads, “keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have for, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.‘“ It’s saying don’t lust after money or other temporary treasures that pass away, instead be content in the Lord because you will always have Him.

Here’s a definition of contentment from Puritan, Jeremiah Burroughs:

“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”

― Jeremiah Burroughs

“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” – Jeremiah Burroughs

Do you see why Christian contentment is a shortcut to happiness? If you have it, you will not always be wistfully looking for something more to satisfy you. Contentment is the attitude that says, “whatever the Lord gives me it is enough.”

Contentment is a shortcut to happiness. It’s a mindset rooted in the truth that allows you to stop chasing after satisfaction in fleeting things and instead to rest contentedly in what the eternal Lord has already given you, and in His promises of things to come. To try and seek happiness apart from Christ is a fool’s errand.

Even to seek happiness by Christ instead of in Christ would be a mistake. He is not the happiness genie who grants us our wish for satisfaction. He Himself is our satisfaction and object of the highest longings of our heart. Finding contentment in Christ is a shortcut to happiness because it’s an abandoning of the roads that were never going to lead to happiness anyway.

It’s amazing, by the way, when you begin to pursue your goals from a place of contentment rather than a desperate longing for fulfillment. The result is not less drive or fewer results, but a joyful, peace-filled pursuit that is satisfied in, and therefore honoring to Christ.

He is enough.

“For he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.'”

Slave of Jesus Christ, husband, father, and Director of Digital Platforms at Grace to You. I also blog for The Master's Seminary.

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