Is It Possible to Be Happy?

Chapter 6 | Summary

The Search for Happiness

Frustrating Selfishness

On the Wrong Path

From Decision to Action

Apparently, he had everything in order to be happy: youth, money, fame, and power. His name shone on the most famous rock concert billboards. Michael Hutchence, lead singer of the band INSX, felt fulfilled at the height of his professional career when, suddenly, on November 22, 1997, the world was stunned by the news of the suicide of the Australian star.1 An autopsy revealed that Hutchence, before hanging himself, had consumed large amounts of alcohol, cocaine, and antidepressants. Police found his naked, lifeless body in a hotel room with a belt around his neck that was tethered to the self-locking mechanism of the door.

The band’s press advisor, Shawn Deacon, commented that great artists generally have a dark side. Hutchence’s agent, Martha Troup, asserted “Michael was a happy man, or at least, he had everything in order to be happy.”2 The statements by Deacon and Troup are shocking. The former speaks about “a dark side” in the life of the artist. The latter said “he had everything to be happy.” Perhaps a man who “had everything to be happy” carried in him “a dark side” that drove him to suicide.

His last record, Elegantly Wasted, released in April that year, enjoyed good sales. One of his songs was included in the soundtrack of Face Off, a John Woo film. A few months prior, Hutchence said: “I am at peace with myself and happy like never before.”

What leads an apparently successful man to seek death? What is that “dark side” that Shawn Deacon mentioned?

The Search for Happiness

Throughout history, philosophers, writers, psychologists, and theologians have tried to define happiness. Democritus, who lived in the fourth century, BC, said that happiness and unhappiness are within the soul.3 Epictetus taught that happiness and desire cannot coexist.4 He referred to happiness as something impossible to attain. Shakespeare said that it is very harsh to picture happiness through the eyes of another person. Like Epictetus, he believed that happiness exists inside oneself. And George Bernard Shaw argued that no one could endure a life of total happiness because it would be hell on earth. He also considered happiness as simply a utopia.

Apparently, all human beings have their own concept of happiness. For some, it is a state of mind that implies satisfaction; for others, it is summed up in that dazzling moment when they feel fulfilled. And there is no shortage of pessimists who compare happiness to a rainbow, which can only be seen over a neighbor’s roof.

After all, what is happiness? How can we recognize it when it passes by us? How can we achieve it? Can we provide happiness to our loved ones? The topic is controversial, in a word, trite. The concept, misunderstood. But in one way or another, the truth is that we all yearn for happiness. Everything human beings do, they instinctively do with the desire to be happy. No one unites in marriage to be unhappy. Does anyone seek employment because they want to be unhappy? No one attends college because they are eager for misfortune.

Despite all our efforts toward happiness, why do we so often fail to attain it? Perhaps it is because our lives are so obsessed with happiness that we do not enjoy the pleasant moments while we live. Possibly, the superficiality, immediacy, materialism, and the hectic life we are forced to live have caused us to forget the wonderful purpose for which we were all created.

In recent years, psychologists and personal self-help and self-improvement therapists have written extensively about happiness. Almost all agree that happiness is not something found outside of us. For example, Og Mandino states: “Basically, happiness depends on whether you want to be happy and feel very good about yourself.”5 He then adds: “One must realize that true happiness lies within oneself. Waste no time and effort searching for peace, contentment and joy in the world outside.”

Mandino is not alone. Contemporary humanism defends the idea that humanity does not need anything or anyone, except itself, to be happy. “Stop looking outward and search inwardly for energy” seems to be a popular phrase of our time. However, the idea is not new. Media outlets may have taken it upon themselves to popularize it, but that way of thinking goes way back.

It is a wonderful idea. Wisdom, objectivity, and self-control are values that have to be rescued from a century dominated by egotism, violence, and materialism. The dialogue is noble, but the results do not seem to be what humanity greatly expects.

Argentine writer, poet, and philosopher, Jorge Luis Borges, may be an example. He wrote a tale that depicts what Mandino and Thoreau state. The story by Borges is his own version of A Thousand and One Nights, a compilation of tales from the Middle East of medieval times, a parable that suggests happiness is not outside but inside us.

The writer tells how a wealthy man who lived in Cairo, lost everything except his father’s house and saw himself forced to work to put food on the table. One day he worked so much that he fell asleep exhausted under a fig tree in his garden next to a water fountain. He dreamed of a stranger who told him: “Your fortune lies in Persia, in Isfahan. Go search for it!”

The next morning, the man awoke and embarked on a long journey encountering dangers posed by thieves, beasts, and inclement weather. Eventually, he arrived at Isfahan at night, so he decided to sleep in the courtyard of a mosque. In the middle of the night, a band of thieves entered the houses, waking up the people who slept there, as well as the neighbors. All claimed for help until the captain of the night watchmen arrived with his men and the bandits fled. The captain then ordered a search of the mosque. They found the man who had arrived from Cairo and beat him until he was on the brink of death.

Two days later, the one seeking happiness regained consciousness in jail. The captain sent for him and asked, “Who are you, and where are you from?”

“I’m from Cairo. My name is Mohamed El Magrebi.”

“What brought you to Persia?” the captain asked.

The poor prisoner replied truthfully: “A man commanded me in a dream to come to Isfahan, because, according to him, my fortune lies here. But now I realize that the fortune promised by such a man must be the lashings you so generously gave me.”

The captain laughed at the naïve person and told him: “Foolish and gullible man! Three times I dreamed of a house in Cairo, with a garden, a sundial; and next to the sundial a fig tree; and next to the fig tree a water fountain; and under the fountain, a treasure. But I do not believe that lie. You, however, have been wandering from city to city believing in your dream. Get out of here, get lost!”

The man returned to his country, found his home, entered the garden, looked for the fig tree, the water fountain, and under it he found the treasure.

Borges concludes that to find happiness it is not necessary to travel all over the world, but simply search for it within yourself. But the writer died, apparently disappointed with his life. Borges did not profess any religion. He sometimes claimed to be agnostic, and other times an atheist.6 However, by explicit request from his mother, a devout Catholic, Borges would say a Hail Mary before going to bed,7 and on his deathbed he received last rites from a Catholic priest.


  1. Be strong and do not let anything destroy you.
  2. Accept that you are more than the possessions around you, and the capacity in which you find yourself or in which you desire to be.
  3. Learn from setbacks in life.
  4. Be slightly better each day.
  5. Enjoy every moment as if it were the last.
  6. Employ calm and reason in every decision.
  7. Think it through before carrying out any action. Own up to everything you do.
  8. Enjoy life and take responsibility for it.

Adapted from Enrique Rojas, No te rindas (Don’t Give Up), Madrid: Planeta, 2011, p. 110.

In 1978, during an interview by Peruvian journalist, Cesar Hildebrandt, Borges claimed to be certain that God does not exist.10 He died on June 14, 1986 at the age of 86, succumbing to hepatic cancer and pulmonary emphysema. According to his last wishes, his remains lie in the cemetery of Plainpalais in Geneva, Switzerland. The headstone, sculpted by Argentine sculptor, Eduardo Longato, is made from a white, rough stone. On top of the front side it reads: “Jorge Luis Borges,” and at the bottom in ancient English, “And ne forhtedon na” (Be not afraid) next to a circular engraving with seven warriors, a small cross of Wales, and the years 1899-1986.

Frustrating Selfishness

What happens to human beings who constantly look within themselves? If the world was perfect and humanity continued to reflect God’s image, it would most certainly possess a balanced character, harmonious emotions, and feelings grounded in reality. Unfortunately, sin entered the world and altered all perfect things, such as Creation and the character of humanity.

The book of Genesis gives the account of what happened with the entrance of sin. God called upon man and said: “Where are you?

The man replied: “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?

He replied: “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Then the Lord God asked the woman: “What is this you have done?

The serpent deceived me, and I ate,” she replied (Gen. 3:9-13).

Sin ruined the relationship between God and humanity (Is. 59:2). That breakdown generated feelings of guilt in the human soul (Is. 53:6; Jer. 2:22; Ezek. 22:4). Guilt, in turn, ruined in Adam the harmony of mind, heart, and body, and led him to a loss of peace (Is. 48:22), to grief (Mic. 7:1) and to self-condemnation (Ezek. 20:43). The basic symptom of this broken relationship with God was emptiness of soul and inner conflict.

The prophet Isaiah describes this situation: “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked’” (Is. 57:20, 21). The broken relationship with God was not only confined to the vertical dimension between God and humanity, but also produced consequences on the horizontal level, between sinners and one another. We perceive this in Cain’s attitude toward his brother, Abel. Cain committed the first murder in history and ran away from his responsibility. Upon being confronted with his sin, Cain became upset with God and asked: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4.9). Separation from God leads humans to the degradation of their relationships with others, whether spouse, children, parents, neighbors, employees, or work supervisors. Why? Because individuals who are not at peace with themselves cannot have peace with others, and cannot be happy.

Does this mean that happiness is unattainable? Not at all! The Bible is emphatic that happiness is possible. When Jesus identified Himself as the Good Shepherd, He said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). In the book of Psalms an entire poem talks about the secret of happiness. The longest psalm of the Bible has 176 verses, 315 lines, and is divided in 22 stanzas. Let’s reflect on the first two verses alone. “Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. Blessed are those who keep his statues and seek him with all their heart” (Ps. 119:1, 2).

If I were to give this psalm a title, it would be: “The secret of happiness.” To be happy it is not enough to want, try, or simply wish. It is necessary to know the secret. When we know the secret of something, it seems simple. When we are unaware of it, we can spend a lifetime trying, and we will never reach our objective. The secret, very often, is something simple, something seemingly insignificant, but it is vital to reach what we desire, despite difficulties encountered along the way.

The psalmist reveals the secret of happiness. “Blessed,” he says. This word in Hebrew means “happy.” Who are happy people according to the psalmist? “Those whose ways are blameless.” Oh! It means there is a way that leads to happiness, and happy people will be the only ones who will find such a way.


  1. Focusing on the part of our life that does not satisfy us
  2. Maintaining ourselves in constant activity, tension, and excitement
  3. Avoiding regularity in schedules and habits
  4. Comparing ourselves to others
  5. Over consuming and under producing
  6. Living in debt and desiring more
  7. Taking everything personally
  8. Attributing unhappiness to our partner or lack of a partner
  9. Searching outside ourselves for what would complete or give meaning to our lives.
  10. Constant complaining
  11. Leaving everything for tomorrow
  12. Forgiving no one, not even ourselves

Gil Friedman, Cómo llegar a ser totalmente infeliz y desdichado (How to Become Totally Unhappy in a Peaceful World), Malaga: Sirio, 2005, cited by Enrique Rojas, No te rindas (Don’t Give Up), Madrid: Planeta, 2011, p. 112.

On the Wrong Path

Imagine that you are in Barcelona, and happiness is located in Málaga. Is there a path that directs you from Barcelona to Málaga? Of course. All you have to do is to take that road and arrive at your destination. Easy! There you go, off to Málaga. But you make a small mistake: Instead of going south, you go the opposite direction.

Your trip is the trip of a lifetime. Days go by, weeks and months. Years come and go and Málaga does not appear. On the way someone tells you: Hey, the city you’re looking for is to the south.”

However, you answer: “No, my parents traveled through here, my grandparents as well, and my great-grandparents traveled in that direction. I will follow their footsteps.” Someone else, desiring to help you, shows you a map. But you refuse to look at it. You are sure you are headed in the right direction, and you continue on your way.

When you left Barcelona you were a 20 years old, full of life and plans. Your great dream was to get to Málaga and find happiness. But years have passed. You are now 90 years old and you drag your feet as you walk. You have left behind France, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Russia. At the end of your days, you arrive at Siberia and you do not find Málaga. Then you conclude Málaga does not exist, it is a utopia, an illusion, the product of human imagination.

Does the city of Málaga exist? Yes, of course! Why did you never arrive? You simply took the wrong way, confused things, and deceived yourself. Happiness exists, but only those who follow the right path will find it.

The world is full of paths; all of them offer happiness. Many of them are deceitful, untruthful, false, and seductive ways. The wise man, Solomon, says: “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Prov. 14:12).

In the midst of this labyrinth of paths, which one leads to happiness? Jesus provided the answer when Thomas asked him: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5). Jesus answered: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). There is no other way to happiness besides Jesus; He is the way. When we accept Jesus, we accept the way that leads to happiness. When we refuse it, we reject our own happiness. And when we say: “Not now, perhaps one day,” we are saying, “I do not want to be happy now, one day perhaps.” Jesus is the only way, there is no other.

From Decision to Action

But, how does Jesus lead to happiness? Human beings are in danger of shrouding the Christian experience with mysticism. If we sit in our gardens waiting for Jesus to personally appear and hold our hands, we will stay there the rest of our lives. If we expect to hear God’s voice saying: “Do this, or do that,” we are likely to hear the voice of the enemy rather than the voice of God.

Christianity is a spiritual experience, not a mystical one. Christians live in this world; mystics try to live a Christian life outside it. Jesus’ prayer was: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). So how does Jesus guide us toward happiness? This is the topic of Psalm 119. The expression repeated throughout the psalm is “The ways of God.” It is repeated in at least seven different forms: commandments, testimonies, statutes, laws, trials, sayings, and words; all refer to the divine teaching contained in His Word. For Israel, it was the Torah; for us, it is the Bible.

Through his Word the Lord wants to lead us to happiness. The Bible is the manual of happiness. By following its recommendations, heeding its advice, and keeping its teachings, we will certainly be happy. “Blessed are those whose ways are blameless” (Ps. 119:1). But the verse continues saying: “who walk according to the law of the Lord.” “To walk” denotes action. To walk is to move, to continue, to move forward. The secret of happiness is to move within the teachings of the Word of God. It’s a shame that today’s human beings chase after everything except the Bible.

Throughout the years I have encountered people with shattered lives that have been restored by the Word of God. One night I was exiting a soccer stadium after a biblical presentation when a man approached me.

“I don’t belong to any church. I don’t care for religion, and I have never believed what pastors say.”

I asked why he had come to the conference. He answered: “Today is my birthday. I’m 60 years old and I’ve not done anything with my life. I’m a failure. I saw myself in the mirror this morning and I realized I have aged without having accomplished anything. I had a lot of money in the past. One of this city’s largest chains of tires was mine, but money made me arrogant. My parents died resenting me. I was married three times, and I destroyed the lives of those three women. My children, now adults, despise me, all because of money. At first I didn’t care if people left me; I had a lot of money and I felt safe. But one day my corporation went under and I found myself alone, without anything or anyone. Today, I came to the realization that life has passed and I haven’t done anything. So this morning, when I heard the conference advertised on the radio I was interested in attending, for the sake of curiosity.”

I had extended an invitation for people to accept Jesus. “Did you accept Jesus?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “Now I want to know what Jesus will do in my life.”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “But I know that if you surrendered your heart to Him, He can do for you what you did not do in your entire life.”


It is impossible to summarize the entire meaning of the person of Christ in just one name. For that reason, there are various names of Jesus in the Bible, in order to illustrate different dimensions of His character and mission.


Precious cornerstone   Isaiah 28:16
Immanuel, God with us   Matthew 1:23
Everlasting Father   Isaiah 9:6
Lily of the valleys   Song of Songs 2:1
King of kings and Lord of lords   Revelation 19:16
Mighty God   Isaiah 9:6
Prince of Peace   Isaiah 9:6
Rose of Sharon   Song of Songs 2:1
Wonderful Counselor   Isaiah 9:6
Alpha and Omega   Revelation 22:13
The Amen   Revelation 3:14
Bread of life   John 6:35
The gate for the sheep   John 10:7
Faithful and true witness   Revelation 3:14
Good shepherd   John 10:14
Lamb of God   John 1:29
Light of the world   John 8:12
Lion of the tribe of Judah   Revelation 5:5
Messiah   John 4:25
Morning Star   Revelation 22:16
Resurrection and the life   John 11:25
True vine   John 15:1
The Way, the Truth, he Life   John 14:6
The Word   John 1:1

I said goodbye and no longer heard from him. Years passed, and one day I was presenting another conference at the convention center in Orlando, Florida, United States. Afterward, someone drew near, hugged me with excitement, and asked, “Do you remember me?”

I did not remember. But it was the man I met five years before. His life had completely changed. He had a new corporation, he had asked his children for forgiveness, and was at peace with everyone. He was happy.

He excitedly told me: “Five years ago I was a man who had wasted his life. But through divine mercy, I found Jesus. I began to study the Bible and apply its advice in my life. I owe Jesus for everything I am and everything I have today.”

That is how it is with God. He takes ruined lives, shattered dreams, broken homes, and rebuilds them. He is God. There is no other: God the Creator, God the Restorer.


1. “Michael Hutchence, 37, Singer In Australian Rock Band INXS,” The New York Times, November 23, 1997, Accessed March 31, 2015.

2. Veja, December 3, 1997.

3. Les penseurs grecs avant Socrate, trad. Jean Voilquin, Garnier-Flammarion, Paris, 1964, p. 178.

4. Nouveau manuel d’Épictète, suivi du Tableau de Cébès, Paris, 1798, paragraph 52, p. 155, Accessed March 31, 2015.

5. O. Mandino, A Better Way to Live, Random House Publishing Group, 1990, p. 105.

6. A. Planells, “Cristo en la cruz o la última tentación de Borges,” Anales de literatura hispanoamericana, 18: 135-152 (1989).

7. P. Sorela, “Borges, ‘forjador de sueños’, fue enterrado en Ginebra,” El País (Spain), June 19, 1986, Accessed April 5, 2010.