devotionals, inside my brain

Rubix Cubes And The Pursuit of Happiness

Originally Posted: December 21, 2006 (Age 18)

Yesterday, I saw Will Smith’s movie The Pursuit of Happyness. His character Chris Gardner brings up an interesting point about the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson said we should each have the right to life and liberty, but not happiness. The pursuit of happiness. “How did he know to put the pursuit part in there?” Gardner wonders.

Life and liberty are easily given and taken away, but happiness is something more elusive. It cannot be promised. We can only be promised the chance to pursue it.

And, in fact, we spend most of our lives pursuing it. Everything we do is an attempt to find some kind of satisfaction ~ in love, in money, in hobbies, in addictions ~ something to make us happy.

It is often said, usually to make a contrast with joy, that happiness comes from our circumstances. The closer that our circumstances match our ideal circumstances, the happier we are.

The Rubix cube in The Pursuit of Happyness is symbolic of this. The colored squares are positioned all over the cube, but they are supposed to be placed together, one color per side. Chris Gardner is not happy because he is struggling at his job, he can’t pay the rent, his wife is angry at him, he can’t support his son ~ nothing is lined up. But even if you can get all the blue squares on one side, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re closer to happiness, because to get all the white squares on the other side, you first have to rearrange some of the blue ones. Because our circumstances are constantly changing ~ the squares are constantly being rearranged ~ it is often impossible to tell if we’re moving forward or backward in our pursuit.

The first truth to recognize is that we are not in control of the rearranging. We often have choices about which way to turn the squares, and sometimes we choose what we think will make us happier because it puts more red squares on one side, but at the same time it puts green squares all over the cube.

And have you ever noticed that some rows are harder to turn than others? Sometimes we have no choice at all, and the squares are simply turned and tossed by others, or by the laws of nature and society, or by God, or by all of the above.

The second truth is that we are not entitled to happiness, only the pursuit of it. Often the reason we are so unhappy is because we think we’re supposed to be happy. Thomas Jefferson only said we’re supposed to be able to pursue it. God never promises it, either. The Bible says many things about happiness being caused by wise actions and various circumstances, but these are only factual statements, not commands or promises. “Thou shalt be happy” is not a commandment.

The problem occurs when, in our pursuit of happiness, we forget each of these truths. We think that we are entitled to it, and we think that we can control it, so we try to manipulate things to bring about that happiness. Sometimes we might get a few colors lined up, but all too often we only end up further disorganizing them across the cube.

It is much better to recognize that we are not actually guaranteed happiness, and to let God do the rearranging. On the other hand, this does not mean that we do nothing. God will not solve our Rubix cube for us. But we will never find happiness by twisting the squares without his guidance.

You may never have all of your squares lined up the way you would like them to be. But that should not be your goal. Look at your Rubix cube. Change what you can. Learn to live with what you can’t. Besides, it may soon change apart from your control. Instead of wasting time trying to figure out how to line up all your colors, do something to help others line up theirs.

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests,” Paul tells the Philippians, “but also to the interests of others.” Because the less you pursue your own happiness, the more you will find it.