Today, you may take a trip to Disney World for the ride of a lifetime. A quick excursion on a Caribbean cruise promises to whisk you away from the world's troubles. Drug stores offer pills to cure your headaches, insomnia and sexual dysfunction. A gleaming car races into the sunset providing romance that promises a happy ending. A Sports Utility Van plows through big mud puddles to land you at the top of a rugged mountain pass.
In other words, "things" become the origin of your happiness. What things make you happy? A major soft drink company features a powerful advertisement at the movies: open a bottle of "happiness." Exactly how do you become happy by drinking a bottle of soda pop? Another advertisement shows families sitting down to a "happy meal" in a wondrous setting. How long do you remain happy with a "thing" that you bought?
All "things" become a 21st century phenomenon: manufactured happiness.
In America today, corporations drone their "happiness" from one commercial to the other in an endless line of material goods. Once you possess that sleek new car, you may drive into eternal bliss. A certain pill guarantees you younger skin, perfect sleep and fabulous sexual delight.
However, there's a catch. For countless people, happiness eludes them whether by fate, choice or circumstance.
On one of my bicycle adventures, a preacher walked up to me to brag about how he decided to take three months leave to bicycle across America. I met him in Durango, Colorado on my own coast-to-coast bicycle adventure.
"I preached for 25 years, raised my kids and asked my wife if I could make this journey to find myself," he said. "She gave me her blessings."
"That's great," I said. "What have you learned?"
"I never knew of anything beyond my congregation," he said. "I've been frightened at what I see out here in the world beyond my flock. Many people argue with me about God. Some don't like me preaching to them. Others could care less about God. They believe so much more differently than I."
"That's the beauty of adventure," I said. "It teaches every traveler a new lesson daily. I'm happy for you to take such a risk of renewal. This is your chance to allow the world to teach you. Listen well. It will make you a better pastor."
Another time while on tour, a 40-year-old fellow walked up to me, "Why are you traveling on that bike? How far have you come?"
"About 100,000 miles in my lifetime," I said.
"I could never do that," he said. "I nearly died during childbirth. I don't want to tempt fate. I can't free myself from my fear of death."
I said, "Has your story done you any good for 40 years?"
"I can't help it," he said. "It runs in my mind."
"That's a choice," I said. "How about deleting the word 'can't' and insert the word 'can'. Quit defeating yourself with your thought patterns that support your failures via your words."
"I never considered that," he said.
"Start thinking and speaking in positive terms," I said. "You can conquer the world if you choose to think you can."
I met an old man once in Christchurch, New Zealand. He spoke these words that I remember to this day.
"There was once a man who told a joke to an audience three times," he said. "Everyone laughed the first time he told the joke. He told it again for a second time a few minutes into his speech, but only half the audience laughed. Finally, he told it one more time, but no one laughed. He admonished the audience, 'If you won't laugh at my joke after you heard it for the third time, why do you keep crying about the same problems over and over again?'"
As with the 40-year-old man, he obsessed with his near-death problem for most of his life. It crippled him against his potential. The preacher sat inside his pulpit to isolate himself from the tribulations of the world.
In your life moving toward genuine happiness, try a new coat on for size:
• If we obsess over problems, they become real. Choose to delete them from your daily mental and verbal expressions.
• Choose a sense of elation in your daily routine.
• Instead of focusing on "things" for happiness, seize the moment whether it is a walk in the park, watching a movie or going dancing.
• If you really want a taste of happiness, volunteer to help someone less fortunate or some cause such as picking up cans and plastic out of a river.
• Drastically reduce; even delete the television from your daily living.
Authentic happiness stems from living simply, creating purpose in your life and sharing it with friends you enjoy. You can't get any of that out of a soda pop bottle.