rebelling against low expectations

The Happiness Myth


This world is teeming with people in unhappy relationships.

Unhappy marriages, unhappy families, and unhappy friendships surround us.

The gift of community that God created to be so good has been abused and broken. And I think what lies at the root of the deterioration of true community is what I call the happiness myth.

I realized that the happiness myth was the problem when I was humming a song all about it. The song has been on countless commercials (and it really has quite a catchy tune). It was written by Kyle Andrews and Neil Mason, and it’s called “You Always Make Me Smile.”

Andrews sings in the chorus:

“I don’t know why I love you
I just know I can’t stop thinking of you
Oh wait
It’s cause you make me smile”

The happiness myth says that our relationships are for our good, our benefit, and ultimately our happiness. Kyle Andrews and Neil Mason ask, “Why do I love you?”

Their answer: Because you make me happy.

So we pick spouses like we pick cats – with a checklist. Healthy, cute, clean, well-behaved, obedient, affectionate, and a comfortable fit into my lifestyle.

We pick friends like we pick food – what satisfies our wants and desires. How will this most benefit me?

And we get angry when our relationships don’t benefit us, when we have to sacrifice or serve.

You see, the happiness myth has spread even to Christian circles.

We have come to view community and relationships in culture’s unhealthy light. We have been struck with the “me” mentality, this pathological idea that our good is the goal of our relationships.

And this needs to change.

Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

If Jesus Christ is to be our guide and model for how we are to live, then our relationships ought to be marked by service instead of selfishness.

Humility instead of pride.

An earnest pursuit of others’ good over our own.

Our relationships are not meant to always make us happy; they are to foster a community of mutual service and love.

The happiness myth is a lie. It is not the way a Christian is supposed to think.

Instead, let us draw near to the cross and, in submission to God, serve others like Christ did.

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Photo courtesy of Bob Bob and Flickr Creative Commons.

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About the author

Jaquelle Crowe Ferris

is the former editor-in-chief of The Rebelution and author of This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years (Crossway). She's the co-founder of The Young Writers Workshop and hosts a podcast for youth called Age of Minority. She's married to Joe and lives in Nova Scotia, Canada.


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  • Excellent thoughts. I recommend a book by a French philosopher, Pascal Bruckner, Perpetual Euphoria, On The Duty To Be Happy. He explains how our culture became happiness based and gives historical examples including the church. Although he is not a Christian, he is an excellent cultural commentator. I think you will find it interesting reading.

  • I’ve been noticing this a lot lately. All around us we watch people divorce because their spouse isn’t making them ‘happy’ anymore. It’s getting really sad. Even Christians are falling into this pit.
    Thanks for the post Jaquelle. 🙂

    • You’re welcome, Brookie. And you’re right, seeing people fall into the trap of the happiness myth is desperately sad. It’s difficult to push back against this cultural theme and really pursue service instead of selfishness. Thanks for your thoughts!

  • The part about people selfishly picking the people to be in their lives is very true, but what about the people that know the true happiness of giving? Some people find happiness in being selfless after doing a hard task. I think it may be more of a lie that selfishness actually brings happiness. It reminds me of a line from that movie ‘To Save a Life’ where someone is saying how his life was fine before he decided to change the way he lived and is now chaos. His youth group leader then tells him that it probably was chaos before, but now he is starting to care. After he’s taken care of all the problems in his life he ends up much happier at the end. Through his pain and suffering he received not just peace, but happiness. Happiness often times comes from giving, and not from receiving, right?

  • Very inspiring article. I was just pondering happiness today. Our society makes personal happiness seem like the ultimate goal time and time again, and this causes people to think of themself first in way too many situations.
    I too sometimes find myself only spending time with people that are ‘easy’ to spend time with..
    Definitely food for thought. Thank you for sharing your wisdom (:

  • Yes! Thank you for this article. A little while ago I stopped to evaluate my friends and why I had them in my life. I was surprised to discover that most of the time I was just thinking about how they benefited me. This mentality has been ingrained in us by culture, but it is completely opposite to God’s teaching. Our goal should be to bless those around us, not to pick and choose people who we think will bless us. And I think we’ll find that with this kind of attitude, we will be blessed far more greatly. 🙂

    • You’re welcome, Ilana. And you’re so right! Culture has been drilling this happiness myth into us through so many different mediums for so long, we’ve begun believing it ourselves. It’s difficult to change our attitude to one that would glorify God, but when we do, as you said, we’ll be blessed far more greatly. What a beautiful encouragement!

  • Very inspiring! Thank you. Also opened my perspective. I want people around me to be happy especially Jesus!

  • wow so true! what an insightful thought into the self-oriented mentality we have–even as Christians–towards relationships today. thank you.

  • Very true Jaquelle,

    Sadly our world only loves people and things that make them happy. Falling into that trap puts you into a false sense of security. Only the love of God can make you truely happy! 😀

    Great article! 🙂

    God Bless,

    Liam Siegler

    • Yes, Liam. That’s exactly it! When we try to satisfy our needs in making ourselves happy and reject God, we’re given false security. Thank you for your encouragement!

  • I think people misunderstand what the word “happiness” actually means…Happiness is an expression that comes when one is filled with joy…and that joy ONLY comes from Christ. 🙂

    • That’s right Sarah. Happiness is a term greatly misunderstood today. The happiness myth could really be called the self-satisfaction myth, for that’s what the world’s happiness is. As I mentioned to Sam, true happiness is really joy, and that can only be found (as you said) from Christ. Blessings to you!

  • Hi Jacquelle. I think this is totally true. People will do a lot for their own gain here on earth when they should be building up treasure in heaven and helping others feel happy. Making others happy, i have found, makes me happy too. So why can’t we all do that? Then the happiness myth would be no more!

    • Yes, Melissa! I would love to see the happiness myth disappear, especially among Christians! The more we pursue kingdom work rather than lay up treasures on earth, the more joyful we will be. Thank you for your comment!

      • The truth in your article is one thing that I need to always keep in mind and live by. It is so easy to get sucked into the selfish thinking. This reminder came at just the time right in my life. Thank you so much. God bless.

  • Excellent point, thanks for writing! Not to get too technical, but I think many times people confuse “Joy” with “Happiness”…Joy being regardless of circumstances! We as Christians should be especially careful in this area. This is a really hard thing for me sometimes, thanks for the encouragement.

    • Yes, Ezra, there is definitely a difference between happiness and joy (depending on definitions), and making sure that we as Christians are aware of the difference will aid our service. Thank you for your comment, and I’m so glad you were encouraged!

  • Excellent article and all of it so true. Society has kind of manipulated us to be in the frame of mind that we cannot be truly happy unless we have the latest in just about everything. We should be storing up riches in heaven because these “riches” on earth will one day waste away. Thanks for writing.

  • Wow, I completely agree with you. While it is good to choose friends that benefit us rather than tear us down, society seems to have an unhealthy obsession with happiness. One of the greatest questions is supposedly “what is the secret to happiness,” and I think the secret is that happiness is not important in the long run. Sometimes I tend to focus too much on the negative, but I think that some people focus too much on the positive and refuse to acknowledge the reality of hardships and pain in our world.

    • Maybe the secret to happiness is to stop chasing after IT, and start chasing after God (the only One who can truly make us happy.)

  • I find it hard sometimes to truly love my friends and not just want to feel love and accepted so thx. It’s cool you’re thinking in this way. It helps us not to get offended when our friends treat us hurtfully.

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 →