The Danger of Self-Defined Happiness

Sam Lichauco

November 21, 2019

There was a four-letter ideology that blew up all over the internet several years ago, which influenced us as to how we should go about living our lives.

YOLO—You Only Live Once

While the term was originally designed as a wakeup call to remind us that we only have one life to live, a number of people interpreted it differently. For some, it meant pursuing the things that made them happy. For others, it was used as an excuse for reckless living and poor decision making.


Is Happiness All There Is?

We live in a time when human beings have turned life into one big playground where nothing matters more than just finding one’s happiness.

Self-improvement books have never been more lucrative a business than now, and is now predicted to garner a 9.9-billion-dollar profit by 2022. We also see countless feel-good quotes on pursuing happiness online, on t-shirts, in stores, and on wallpapers.

And while there is nothing wrong with being happy, putting our personal happiness as the primary driver of our lives is dangerous and may potentially cause more harm than good.


The Danger of Pursuing Happiness

Each person has a different meaning or interpretation of happiness. It is also short lived, like a relay race with multiple stations but no clear finish line. It lasts for a moment, before you start looking for your next happy pill. See, our pursuit for happiness is insatiable, and therefore impossible to attain. Whenever we “achieve” happiness, we desire and look for it more and more.

But perhaps the true danger of living on the basis of our own definition of happiness is how it affects our relationships. If we are too blinded by it, we can become too selfish, placing ourselves above others, and making their rights, emotions, and welfare subservient to our own interest. This could hurt our closest relationships—with God, our parents, and our friends. What’s more, it downplays the virtues of selflessness, sacrifice, harmony, and goodwill.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t aspire for happiness? Does happiness automatically beget selfishness and ill-will? Not necessarily.


All Good Things

In Genesis 1 and 2, God described everything He created to be “good”; after all, He is the creator of all good and pleasurable things (Psalm 16:11).

The problem isn’t that God does not want us to experience happiness or pleasure. After God described everything as good (and humans as very good), sin came through Adam and Eve’s disobedience and ruined the good that God designed. Our sinful nature distorts our preferences and desires that we don’t find pleasure and happiness in what He originally designed for us.

But happiness doesn’t have to be twisted. It can be life-giving and life-changing. It can impact multiple generations. We just have to start with revisiting the seat of our desires—our hearts.


Gaining the Desires of Your Heart

There’s one verse that I used to hold on to as a student whenever I wanted something so badly:

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:4

I used to think that as long as I kept going in my relationship with God, He would be like a genie who would grant me whatever I wanted. But every time I played this card with God, I always ended up disappointed.

Later on, I realized that this verse actually meant something entirely different. It gave one clear action step: Delight in God. Because it was in delighting in God and not on anything He could give me that my heart would discover what true happiness and pleasure meant.

Before I knew it, the desires of my heart started to change. Happiness began to look a lot different. I started to long for what didn’t matter to me before—things I couldn’t buy or achieve on my own. Some of these include the relationship of family and friends with Jesus, clarity and healing for my loved ones, and more of my classmates hearing the gospel.

Because when my motivation in relating with God was to know Him instead of expecting Him to give what I wanted, I did end up knowing Him more—His heart, His desires, His plans for me and for others.

Soon I realized that His desires became mine. I then began to pray and collaborate with God for these desires.


Guiding the Desires of Your Heart

Aside from reading and applying the Word of God, God surrounded me with people I could trust and share my raw thoughts and emotions with. They also help me to pursue godly desires. They didn’t have to share the same course, background, or passion as me. They just needed to be people who could cheer me on but also correct me when necessary.

Find people who you can openly share what you’re praying for and give them permission to speak into your life. They will help you process and guide you through it in a healthy way (Proverbs 11:14).


The Ultimate Good

God loves to give good gifts to His children that we can enjoy (Matthew 7:11; 1 Timothy 6:17). On the other hand, pursuing happiness without God will be a cycle of want and dissatisfaction.

But God, being the Author of all that is good, knows that what will truly satisfy us is not a high grade, a lifestyle upgrade, or number of likes—it is Himself.

In the end, it is not what we get from God that can make us happy in the long run. It’s that we get Him, the ultimate Good, and because of that, everything else is just a bonus.


The Author

Sam Lichauco

Sam Lichauco was reached out in the summer before entering her third year of college in Ateneo de Manila University. She is an avid collector of notes and mementos. She loves to read, write, eat, take amateur photos, and travel the world. If she could do all these at once, that would be her ideal vacation. She serves as a writer of Every Nation Campus Philippines. You can find more of her writing at