Oh To Be Happy — CJ Quartlbaum

CJ Quartlbaum
4 min readJun 9, 2023

The 90s and 2000s were dominated by self-help books designed to make you a better version of yourself. The 2010s were dominated by productivity books. If I could make a prediction, I think the next wave will be books and videos on how to be happy.

The numbers show we are generally unhappy as a society. We’re finally starting to see that the things we’re chasing aren’t completing us how we thought they would. There’s a theory that we’re just too young as a country. The reason people are so chill in Europe is that they had thousands of years of empire-building only to figure out that joy isn’t found in the accumulation of things. Barely 250 years old, Americans just haven’t had the time to figure that out yet.

Now we have this whole cottage industry springing up around the question, what does it take for us to be happy? One of my favorite recent examples comes from the Netflix series, Beef. while they grapple with a ton of different themes that are worth exploring, I want to hone in on the question of happiness.

There is a scene in which a poor character gets some money and isn’t happy. He goes to another wealthy character and asks if she is happy. Confused, she wants to know why he’s asking this and he says “I just need to know if I have to get to where you are.”

There is a deep emptiness and sadness in both of them that their wealth couldn’t fix.

I’m guessing that a lot of us are in the same place. Maybe it’s not wealth for you, but it’s something. We’re looking for that one thing and it’s not enough or we’re longing for the arrival of a particular day that may never come.

Where is Your Happy?

Beef hits home for me. As someone who grew up poor, whether I said it or not, there was always this idea that a specific dollar amount would bring me happiness. Although I haven’t reached it (which is why I could use your support via Patreon or PayPal), I have already figured out that money isn’t going to do it.

I spend enough time with people to know we all have something that plagues us. Honestly, if it was just money, life would be so much simpler. In reality, for most of us, it’s a confluence of things. The longing and searching for all the pieces to fall into place so that life, our minds, and our hearts would finally feel…easy.

I don’t want to give you the standard Christian cliche and say “JeSus Is YoUr HaPpInEsS” because as true as that is, for many of us, we don’t always feel that. We know it in theory but in practice it doesn’t always come to fruition. It’s the gap between our heads and heart. We are not alone, there is a long history of people trusting God and still feeling deep despair. From Jeremiah and Elijah to Spurgeon and Mother Teresa, followers of God are no strangers to afflictions of the heart.

What do we do?

I don’t know. If I did, perhaps, I would cure my own sadness. Again, I wish there was an easy answer that I could give you. The 5 simple steps I followed and now everything is good. Life doesn’t work like that and I don’t think it should. Sadness can be a gift. We don’t lament enough anymore.

I have many sad days. More than I would like. Periods where waves of sadness wash over me and sit like the weightiest blanket. Nights where my heart is fast and my mind is heavy. And all I can say is, keep pressing forward. Paul’s words in Philippians 3:12–14 are instructive here: Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.

There will be days when the sadness keeps us from getting out of bed. Days where it is utterly crippling but most days, we keep pressing forward. Spurgeon and Mother Teresa got up and went to work every day in pursuit of the heavenly call in Jesus. May we do the same.

I don’t know what’s behind you. Depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, break ups, mental affliction, selfish ambition, failed dreams, broken marriages, and lost children. But I do know that we have to continue to press forward.

There is no promise that happiness will come in this life. As Christians, our hope is a future hope. It is in the truth that one day God will finally and fully make all things new. Revelation 21 describes this as a time when there will be no more sadness or crying. The heavens and earth will be made new, and we will dwell with God in his glorious light forever.

I look forward to the day when the waves of sadness no longer come.

Today, I rejoice when I get glimpses of what that day will be like. Those pure, beautiful moments with my wife, family, and friends, doing incredible things on the basketball court like I’m 22 again, good food, and enjoying the creation of God.

Jesus never promised to make us happy, which I know is a hard word for many of us to hear and maybe even goes against what we’ve been taught; but he has promised to be with us and it might sound a little cliche but I really believe that is far better.

Originally published at https://www.cjquartlbaum.com on June 9, 2023.

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CJ Quartlbaum

Writer and Speaker from Brooklyn. Race, justice, theology, fitness,and a few random things are what I like to write about.