“WHAT IS HAPPY?” is is the question that I often pose to my wife in response to her query about whether I am happy. It is a reply that I sometimes use to deflect her probing, but it also stems from a genuine uncertainty about the meaning of happiness or how one is supposed to feel if one is happy.
Quite a few of my clients, I find, have this topic on their minds when they come to see me. Of course, they do not walk in and simply ask “What is the secret of happiness?” But this query can take other less obvious forms.
Take for example the man who wanted to leave all that he has built over the years – his successful job, a coveted career, and even his family – to travel without any clear destination in mind. is is a man who had a reasonably good family life. He was not running away from anything, except perhaps boredom.
Or perhaps the husband who admits to being aware that even if he leaves his second lover to return to his wife, he cannot be sure that this will be the end of his adulterous ways. He realises that it is not because the woman he is with lacks something, which makes him dissatisfied, but that the unsettledness comes from within him. Is the lack of real happiness the missing piece in his life?
You may have noticed that one thing both examples have in common is they involved men searching for something. Despite the material abundance in their lives, they felt profoundly empty. Is this a quest that only men have? Do women also reach a point in their lives when they start seeking more?
In my counselling experience thus far, I have only met men who came with this type of restlessness. It was also men who were well into their forties and above. I must acknowledge it is not inconceivable that some women, too, might experience this.
But it is a malaise that seems to aﬀect men mostly. is gender variation might have something to do with what preoccupies most men and women. Women draw their happiness, meaning and purpose in life from their involvement with people and the family. For men, they derive a sense of fulfilment from activities and accomplishments.
Could womankind have made the wiser choice about how they spend their time and energy? eir investments in the lives of people and the building of relationships appear to give more long-term returns. Comparatively, men sometimes tire and get bored easily with their flirtations with various activities and achievements. e returns from these pursuits are also unpredictable and may be short-lived. Could this be why some men experience a sense of emptiness in their later life? And why some men realise the lack of happiness in their lives?
Is this, then, the secret to happiness? at we should all just focus on our families and try to get along with all men? As good and positive as these principles may be, the Bible points us further along this path. It tells us that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” (I Tim: 6:6).
Being content, it appears to me, is a far more meaningful goal to achieve than being happy.
Benny Bong is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, is a family and marital therapist.