“It makes me happy. “

I find this phrase incredibly irritating. And I hear it a LOT.

You know, it’s not that I object to people being happy. It’s not that I object to people doing things because it makes them happy. What I object to is a combination of two things: it is used as a reason way too often and because it is used so much, it makes me question their underlying philosophy and values.

Now as for the using it too often, partly it is context. Some of the places where I hear it so often are on some podcasts where the phrase is more or less appropriate to the topic. They are, after all, talking about a hobby that we share for entertainment and pleasure. If they were talking about other things, they might not use that phrase so often. So I don’t truly object to their use of the phrase, it’s just that I get tired of its frequency, but then I also get tired of the frequency with which they use the same adjectives again and again. It takes concentration to stop yourself from always using your favorite terms to describe good things. And they are, ultimately, amateurs, so I don’t really hold it against them.

But underlying the phrase is an approach to life that is all too pervasive in our society, and that bothers me a lot more. What is your reason for doing things? Any things. All kinds of things. Because it makes you happy? If that is your reason for anything and everything, you are an incredibly selfish person. (NOTE, please, that I am not accusing the aforementioned podcasters of this attitude; in fact, my general impression is that they are generous, nice people. For them, it’s all about context.) If that is your reason for some things, that is understandable and acceptable. But where is the balance point?

Being a Christian, my underlying philosophy of life does not automatically assume that everything I do in life is to make me happy. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to do things that are not about my happiness. Serving God and serving others are excellent reasons for doing things that you personally don’t like or enjoy. Over time, as you grow spiritually, doing those things in the spirit of service means that you will eventually come to gain pleasure from them, not in a self-mortifying way but with an eyes-on-the-prize attitude that ultimately sanctifies even the most annoying and unpleasurable tasks. But pleasure is not the reason for doing those things. I have taken on tasks that I don’t necessarily like in order to serve others. For example, I do not regard cleaning things as particularly happy-making, but I can remember at least once going to a Christian sister’s house and helping to clean her bathroom while she was down with a leg injury. And I walked away pleased, but I still didn’t enjoy cleaning the toilet. (Many children make for dirty bathrooms.)

What bothers me most, I think, is that the it-makes-me-happy reason is cited all too often. I’m not seeing or feeling the balance in people’s lives that helps me know that they are making those choices only some of the time, not all the time. So I am left with the thought that as a society, our attitudes are unbalanced and more selfish than not.

And that worries me.

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