rebelling against low expectations

A New Attitude Towards Happiness


I often worry about young people today who place much of their hope for happiness in items, activities, and pursuits that are inherently short-lived. Whether it’s our physical appearance, our high school sports career, or our wild and carefree lifestyle, we tend to attach excessive importance to passing pleasures and then react negatively to the fact that they are unsustainable.

We end up being unhappy and discontent when our beauty begins to fade, when our football career meets an emphatic conclusion—either through injury or graduation—when marriage and family discontinue our party lifestyle, and when necessities start taking time and money away from our luxuries. By luxuries I mean movies, extra clothes, eating out, the new PSP™ (PlayStation®Portable), etc. and even expensive activities such as snowboarding or paintballing.

While none of these things are bad per se they all tend to play a disproportionate role in our continued happiness and contentment and must be addressed if for no other reason than that they are guaranteed to disappoint us.

You see, whenever we stake our happiness on a more-or-less ideal set of circumstances we are bound to get hurt because circumstances change. Friendships will change, your body will change, your popularity status will change, your income will fluctuate, and your lifestyle itself will be dramatically transformed by all these other changes.

If you are banking on a certain kind of lifestyle, a certain kind of job, a certain kind of marriage, or a certain kind of family to make your adult life a happy life, you need to reconsider your definition of happiness—because by defining happiness as circumstances, however wonderful they may be, you guarantee unhappiness and discontentment for yourself.

And here is my shocking statement: You should never have to be unhappy.

This does not mean you have an excuse to indulge yourself in the many temporary fixes mentioned above. Rather it is a call for a new attitude towards contentment—to place your hope for happiness in items, activities, and pursuits that are intrinsically stable and solid—unaffected by circumstances.

When my niece, Faith Felicity Harris, was life-flighted down to Loma Linda, California, to await a heart transplant, my older brother Joel and his wife Kimberly left behind all of the circumstances many of us depend on for happiness and contentment, in order to stay with Faith and comfort her.

Unsure of how long they would be in California they moved out of the duplex that had become their first home together, they left their rapidly growing music studio, which had taken years to build up and was their only means of income, and they left the comfort of their friends, family, and church.

By the world’s definition they should have been unhappy and discontent! But though there was discomfort, pain, and sorrow, they were not unhappy. And this was because, as Elisabeth Elliot said, “The answer is not to get rid of unhappiness, but to find a new definition for it.”

Joel and Kimberly were evidence of the fact that passing pleasures are unreliable and subject to change, but they were not unhappy because they had placed their happiness in things that are unaffected and even complemented by suffering. They had defined happiness with things like duty, honor, sacrifice, faithfulness, commitment and service. Their faith in a sovereign and wise God, even through suffering, was evident by actions that pleased Him.

My challenge to you is that as you look forward to your future, define happiness differently than the rest of the world does. If you are eager to marry understand that sacrifice, faithfulness, and commitment are the keys to a happy marriage—not two beautiful, popular, and/or rich people. If you are eager to pursue a career that satisfies and interests you all the way till retirement, develop an appetite for duty, honor, diligence, and service—not prestige, company cars, and triple-digit hourly wages.

This is not to say that you cannot have these things. It is 100% OK to marry a beautiful woman or a handsome man. It is good for us to aim high when it comes to our careers. We should not all become janitors merely to develop character. Aim for fire chief, aim for sheriff, aim for teacher, aim for professor, aim for CEO, aim for Representative, or aim for Senator. Aim for President for that matter! The wonderful thing about duty, sacrifice, faithfulness, commitment, and service is that they serve you equally well no matter who you marry or what job you get.

By adopting a new attitude towards contentment—by moving outside of circumstances—we can ensure our happiness despite circumstances.

So start revamping your values list. Pray that God would help you find joy in permanent pleasures. Steer away from books, movies, and music that tells you happiness is being young, beautiful, and successful. That’s as stupid as saying that happiness is summertime. You’ll be unhappy three of the four seasons.

Instead pursue friendships with people who share a solid value system. Read books, watch movies, and listen to music that celebrates character. The book “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee is not for younger children, but would be an excellent book for most of our readers. The 1962 movie adaptation, starring Gregory Peck, is a wonderful alternative to reading the book for those who are short on time.

The movie “Chariots of Fire,” a come-from-behind winner of the 1981 Oscar for best picture, shares the beautiful story of devout Christian Eric Liddell whose running makes him feel closer to God, and is appropriate for the whole family.

I have also heard that the recent film “Cinderella Man” starring Russel Crowe and Renée Zellweger, is an amazing picture of commitment and faithfulness in marriage, though I haven’t seen it myself. I would encourage you to make use of services such as Focus On The Family’s to reach a decision on the appropriateness of this film.

Now, please don’t get the impression that this attitude switch is accomplished solely by watching movies. What I’m trying to do with these recommendations is to recognize and combat the cultures strategy of using books, movies, music, etc. to push their faulty value system. It is good to watch good movies. Watching not-so-good movies has shaped many of our subtle misconceptions regarding beauty, love, and success. Those lies must be combated with the truth and preferably using the same medium of film.

However, movies alone will not cut it. Watching men like Atticus, Eric Liddel, and Jim Braddock will do nothing for you unless you can begin copying their positive traits and learning from their weaknesses. The key to value system makeover is observing, appreciating, and copying duty, honor, sacrifice, faithfulness, commitment and service, whether it’s on the silver screen, in the ICU, behind the cash register, or in your own home or school.

In our pursuit of happiness we can make no wiser choice than to be different from an unhappy world that throws itself at passing pleasures.

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • I once heard someone say, “joy is the confident expectation of future good.” Consequently joy and sorrow can coexist, yet happiness is often determined by our circumstances. Like C.S. Lewis said, “I’m not particularly sure God wants us to be happy.” But we can be joyful in Him regardless of our position, personality, or problems.

  • Yeah, our church watched the series by John Piper called the Blazing Center, talking about how we should get our joy from God and not other things.

    Read To Kill a Mockingbird this summer… excellent book!


  • Our pastor once said that “happiness in and of itself is nonexistent. You cannot have happiness without a Reason.”

    I always have looked up to Eric Liddel and his total submission to the Lord. His story is so inspiring to me.


  • i read your book and i think it could use a few more meme refernces. still a great book(add more memes)

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →