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If there is a universal quest among human beings, it is the search for happiness. The only problem is that happiness is fleeting. Is there a secret to lasting contentment? The answer can be found in the pages of the Bible.

The problem with fleeting happiness

Psychologists understand the problem of fleeting happiness. Some assess happiness in terms of dimensions, the first of which they call hedonistic. These are brief experiences that quickly fade away. This refers to momentary happiness brought by temporary pleasures such as good food, receiving praise, celebrating, or even receiving a raise.

Fleeting happiness also occurs when we set goals or expectations. Psychologists call this “reach schools.” We think: “I’ll be happy when I get A.” We reach A, but soon that fulfillment passes. Now we set a new goal: to “be happy when we reach B.” This can become an endless cycle.

The role expectations play in happiness

In psychology, there is something called the prospect theory. Under this theory, if an outcome meets or exceeds expectations, people tend to be happy. But if the result falls below expectations, people are unhappy.

For example, someone expecting $5 receives $7 and is pleased. However, when someone expects $10 and receives $7, they are upset. In both cases, they received $7, but their feelings are quite different because of expectations.

The Bible’s guide to happiness

“Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.”

– Proverbs 16:20

If our expectations set us up for disappointment, lowering expectations is one way to avoid it. Or having no expectations at all. Accepting what life brings our way and giving thanks, being grateful no matter what the circumstances. Another path to happiness is to trust in the Lord. As one saying goes: “Let go and let God.” As another saying goes: “Put everything in God’s hands.”

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

–Jeremiah 29:11

God knows what you need and what you can endure. Sometimes we need adversity to help us grow, learn and become stronger. No matter what happens, God is always looking after us.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

–Romans 8:28

Give thanks to God for both the good and the not-so-good.

“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.”

–Job 5:17

No one goes through life without experiencing discomfort.”

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

–James 1:2-3

Jesus said:

“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

–John 16:22

The answer to long-lasting happiness

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

– 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Here is where the Bible and psychology agree: The secret to long-lasting happiness is relationships with people we love. Or put even simpler: Love.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

–1 Peter 4:8

A lot of unhappiness results from fear: Fear of not getting or having what we want or think we need. Fear of missing out, fear of not being accepted and a whole list of other fears.

But love is fearless.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

– 1 John 4:18

Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God, and the second greatest is this:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

–John 13:34-35