Please watch this advertisement from Coca-Cola before reading, as I will be making reference to it throughout the post.
What is happiness? To some it may be an emotion, other would call it a state of mind, and then some may describe it as an action. Merriam-Webster defines happiness as, “a state of well-being and contentment, or a pleasurable or satisfying experience.” Happiness, in essence, is dependent upon the perspective of the individual. Yet, we all experience happiness. Everyone, unless you are really setting out to not be, want to be happy. Businesses have taken the approach of selling you happiness whether you know it or not. Advertisers have perfected the means by which they present products. Coca-Cola, for years, has shifted their sugary fizzy water from just a beverage to a lifestyle choice. Here are a few of their slogans from 1886-2006, from their official website. In 1924 it was “Refresh Yourself ,” 1976 brought us “Coke Adds Life,” and finally in 2006 we were given “The Coke Side of Life.” However, after decades of presenting Coca-Cola in different lights, 2009 gave us the now well known “Open Happiness.” Throughout Coca-Cola’s advertising campaigns of the last decade, their brand and product are often shown in everyday situations, like the commercial above (to which I will explore here shortly), with people smiling, laughing, being what Coca-Cola would sell you as “happiness.” I will admit, it is a very effective and smart business strategy! It definitely sells the product, especially to a society that longs for experiences. With Coca-Cola, you will experience these things. You will be happy! Isn’t that what we all want? We want love, happiness, security, etc. There is just one glaring problem with these advertisements. They false represent life.
The name of the ad at the top of this post is titled “COCA-COLA Anthem,” and in the description of this ad, it reads “There’s a Coke for every feeling.” By this point, I hope that you are coming to the realization that Coca-Cola is reinforcing this idea of tying the concept of happiness and their product together. So now I would like to break down some of the things seen in the commercial above. The ad begins with an overflowing glass of the product, notably lacking the distinct fizzy golden top that takes up two thirds of any normal glass. Then the title card of “Coca-Cola with Ice” appears to set into motion the connecting product with various actions of overly smiling model/actors doing things in the background. The word “Ice” transitions to a a smiling girl playing in the snow with friends. New title card, “Ice with Friends.” Each ending word transitions into a new scene, a new experience with the fizzy water product somewhere in the foreground. Each time the brand name and product are seen, it occurs over somebody smiling in the background. Coke equals happiness. Without Coke, you are not happy. Somewhere around halfway through the commercial, the ad shifts from friends, to romance. “Coca-Cola with Love” appears in a glorified presentation of some aspect of life we, the general consumer, are familiar with. Finally, after a montage of even more overly smiling actors, the commercial ends with “You with Coca-Cola.” As discussed, Coca-Cola is selling it’s product as a lifestyle. To this company, happiness is a feeling, an emotion. The commercial’s ending has the jingle “taste the feeling.” This ultimately wraps up all that Coca-Cola is trying to say with its anthem, Coke is this feeling. But is it really? Of course not, then why are we so susceptible to advertisements like this? Coca-Cola, which this is the twenty-ninth time I’ve said their brand (to which I also recognize as free advertising for them), is not the only company to sell their product as a lifestyle. Companies like Apple Computers, Sony Entertainment, Starbucks Coffee, and many others advertise their product as a lifestyle and it is extremely effective! So in the advertising, business world, happiness is a feeling. An emotion. But what is happiness truly?
I really enjoy Merriam-Webster’s definition of happiness as being content. As discussed in my previous post, contentment is a choice. I and you may want different things, or to be in different places than we currently are, but we can accept the current state of life and embrace it for all that it has to give. We can easily begin to chase the endless options that exist to change our way of living. I’ve picked on Apple before, even as a self professed Apple Fanboy, for selling their products in such a way that we are no longer content with last year’s model. If we chase after the latest and greatest (emphasis on that it is not the greatest) things, how exhausting our lives become! It never ends! There is and will always be something newer, shinier, and better than we what we currently have. Our culture, at least here in America, is one of consumerism. Somehow, the consumer mindset has moved away from just products to how we look at life as well. Take for example, marriage. Over fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. Most cite irreconcilable differences as the reason they are separating. Perhaps couples had drank more Coca-Cola they would be happier (Ha! Jokes!). But this is revealing of the flaws in our society. If we are not happy with something, be it friends, relationships, social status, etc; we easily ditch what we have in the hopes of gaining something we perceive to be better. We are restless in this way. We are bored if there is any downtime. We are unmotivated without incentive. And so, we fill our lives with stuff, things in order to counter this. Consumerism. And as we have (hopefully) seen through my example of Coca-Cola, that companies have found this weakness and pressed. Pressed to temporarily heal this wound, until we are caught in the downward spiral that is finding happiness.
So businesses have fueled consumers into a pattern of spending in order to achieve what they see as happiness, and the effects of this can be easily seen in the numbers of Americans that live in debt. Now not all Americans are in debt due to chasing things, but there is a correlation between the two. I have heard stories first hand from friends and acquaintances about their chase to find happiness. It’s not pretty, I promise. But what does God say about happiness?
In my ESV translation bible the word ‘happiness’ does not appear, at all. Content appears a handful of times, most notably in Paul’s epistles. In his letter to the Church at Phillipi, Paul is in prison. However, in the midst of his imprisonment, Paul discusses God’s provision.
“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.“
-Phillipians 4:10-13 ESV
Paul understood that God was and is in control. He need not worry about food, money, or being taken care of. He appreciated the Church at Phillipi’s concerns and wants to assist him, but knew that God was working. It can be strange for most of us to understand how Paul could be content in prison. How could Paul rejoice while being oppressed? It is here where I try to wrap my mind around it, perhaps we are not called to be happy! Despite what businesses may make us believe, we are not to be happy! We are to be content! As a man, I know that it can be difficult to set aside selfishness and pride. If there is something that I am not happy with, or to describe it better for the sake of the argument to come, something I am not satisfied with, I attempt to do whatever I can to resolve, to change the thing I am not satisfied with! That’s not contentment. The reality is this; there are things that we have no control over. There are situations that we cannot change no matter how hard we attempt to. There is no product to change our situation in life. Sometimes I have to come to the realization that I can’t do something, cast off my pride and selfishness and approach the Lord, my God to humble me. I know that I cannot be content without Him, His Word, and His Spirit. But for some restlessness creeps back up and strife occurs.
After fleeing Egypt, Moses and the people of Israel are at the base of Mount Sinai. Moses ascends Mount Sinai to speak with God, and receive the Ten Commandments. While Moses is gone restlessness rises amongst the people.
“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving told and made a golden calf…“
-Exodus 32:1-4 ESV
Before even reaching Mount Sinai, God had done many miraculous things before the people of Israel. From the splitting of the Red Sea, to water flowing from a stone, to the provision of bread, the people had seen the awesome power of God. Let me also mention the signs performed by Moses to the Pharaoh. Yet here, under the mountain the people of Israel were readily turning to false gods.
“and the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you…“
-Exodus 32:7-10 ESV
Quickly, after all that the Lord had done for Israel, the people turned away to false gods. They were not content to wait for Moses to return, and so they sinned against God. I do not find this surprising, even in this day in age. We live in a world of options, near endless options. Thus when something is not stimulating enough for us, we turn to something else. When we don’t like some aspect of our current major, we turn to another. When we don’t like our car, we trade it in for a newer one. The people of Israel were not content with what the Lord had provided, and revolted from it. Contentment is not an easy place to reach, it requires discipline and practice. Call it adversity or difficulty, but when faced with a challenge we often look for the simple, easy way around the problem. So I would argue that it is easier for us to utilize stuff, things to make us happier. It’s what the people of Israel did.
“And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the cold and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made and burned to with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it…“
-Exodus 32:19-20 ESV
I can only imagine the breadth of God’s wrath, His mighty power when we sin against Him. He is awesome! Moses’ anger was a righteous anger in response to the vile sin he saw. I read this, and see disappointment. Disappointment in his people, that they were not patient, were not content, and that they had so quickly turned away from God. They turned to something that made them happy, yet as quickly as they had made the calf, it was quickly destroyed. I think that the happiness companies claim to sell dissipates quickly, like the calf. That happiness is temporal, fleeting, and addictive. So happiness, then, is not lasting. Contentment, however, is. Does this mean that I should not feel happy? No, of course no! I am happy when I spend time with my friends. I am happy when I spend time in the Word of God. I am happy when I serve the Lord. Happiness is not a bad thing, but the happiness that the world tries to sell us is not what I would call true happiness. True happiness comes when we rest in the Lord, when we find contentment in the Lord. We can rest, not having to chase the latest trend or fashion. Not having to constantly fall into the cycle of purchasing the things that claim to make us happy, but leave us feeling miserable. Like Paul, I seek to rest in the Lord, find my contentment in the Lord, find peace with the Lord. In every trial, every circumstance, I rely solely on the Lord for wisdom and guidance.