Have you ever chased a rainbow? I have. The first time I saw the glimmering end of a rainbow, I scooped up my spade from the sandpit as I darted past and then scurried through the gate at the back of the yard and into the park where I saw its ending shimmering on the damp green grass in the middle of the field. I didn’t make it far before my small child legs gave up exhausted. I chased one or two more rainbows after that time, fuelled in all likelihood by the reading of far too many Enid Blyton fairy stories. All again with the same outcome; disappointment and no pot of gold.
Not too many years later and as a somewhat wiser child, I liked to think (I had given up the fairy tale notion of pots of gold and spades) I had formulated a plan to get myself to the end of the ever elusive rainbow. I was older, stronger, could run faster and longer than before and this coupled with determination, I was sure next time would get me there. The day of the plan’s execution dawned like any other. I was hanging out with my younger brother, riding our bikes on the concrete driveway – down and up and around the letterbox when one of us spotted a rainbow. It was close. Its bow arced across the sky in all its glory and it looked like it finished – it did finish – right in the centre of the park behind our house. Game on! We dropped our bikes and took off. This time we were going to get to the end!
I’m sure reader that you can see where this is going. We ran to the centre of the park and the rainbow was now three quarters of the way across! When we reached three quarters it was at the farthest side. When we reached the far side of the park it was over the fence and in someone’s back yard. Well we jumped right over that fence (don’t tell my mother) and kept on doggedly chasing that rainbow’s end! We went through that someone’s garden, then down their long driveway until we reached the busy main road. It was at this point that my dream gave way to the disappointing reality that the end of a rainbow can never actually be caught. It’ll keep moving and shifting, ever elusive. Teasing with promise and then shying away. With this realisation, I walked home the long way around (I didn’t want to risk getting caught in someone’s back yard), dragging my feet in disappointment. My brother, bless him, decided to forge on and went through a few more gardens and back yards before he reached the same conclusion and returned home.
Happiness is a bit like that rainbow. When happiness is our goal, our end game, that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; when we focus on it, make plans to get it and chase it down, we too can find ourselves one day standing there defeated and disappointed by the realisation that it can be not just elusive but fleeting as well.
Now happiness has a couple of different meanings. The first is that happiness is an emotion: a sense of contentment or pleasure. It feels good when it is present and so it is no surprise that we want it and chase after it. However, like all emotions, happiness comes and goes. As humans, we are created to experience the full spectrum of emotions both the pleasurable and the difficult. To want only happy feelings 24/7 is like expecting blue skies and sunshine every day. Yes, unrealistic. So to be fully human, fully alive and to experience life in all its richness is to experience all emotions.
The other meaning of happiness is a sense of wellbeing, joy or contentment in a life lived rich and full of meaning. When the outworking of our lives reflects our values, beliefs and all that we hold dear, a deep sense of contentment and meaning follows. This is happiness. This is not a fleeting emotion, it is a profound sense of a life lived fully, with meaning and purpose. This happiness will bring with it many pleasurable feelings, it will also bring difficult and painful ones like sadness, fear, anger or loss. And this is all normal. It is what it means to be human and fully alive.
In a nutshell: When we focus our attention on the pursuit of happiness – like chasing rainbows for the pot of gold – it can leave us feeling unsatisfied, disappointed and depressed. To live a life of meaning and purpose, one that is in line with our values and all that we hold dear – this is what brings true happiness. Pursue this.