Finding Happiness

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To listen to this reflection as a podcast, click here.
What do you hope to do before you die? 
Inspired by the 2007 comedy-drama The Bucket List, starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, as well as a growing mini-industry devoted to generating new and interesting answers to that question, millions of people are taking the time to identify what dreams they hope to fulfill before they “kick the bucket.” 
If you Google “bucket list,” you’ll get almost 100 million hits.  Entire websites are devoted to providing before-the-end-of-your-life guidance. 
Many people hope to travel.  They’d like to visit all 50 states or every country in the world.  Some are targeting trips to the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, or other spectacular human creations.
Others dream of experiencing the wonders of Nature.  They hope to peer over the edge of the Grand Canyon or watch Old Faithful erupt.  Perhaps they can visit all 63 of America’s national parks.  A few highly devoted bird lovers would like to catch sight of all 11,000-plus avian species on the planet.  Still other people hope to scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef, scale Mt. Everest, or see the Northern Lights. 
Some bucket listers yearn for things that are pretty much beyond their control.  Before they die they hope to experience true love, become a grandparent, win the next $2 billion Powerball jackpot, receive a Pulitzer Prize, or watch a favorite sports team earn a championship.  Lifelong Chicago Cubs fans were surprised the world did not end in 2016 when the Cubbies finally won the World Series, and now wonder what to do with the rest of their lives.
What do all these bucket list items have in common?
They’re all additions
One of the assumptions of Western culture – and America in particular – is that happiness comes by doing more, achieving more, and getting more.  If we just accumulate enough money, or visit enough interesting places, or bring home enough trophies, we will finally win the Happiness Prize.  For many people, a bucket list is an attempt to squeeze in as many final hopes and dreams before our brains and bodies finally give out. 
But there is no evidence this strategy actually works. 
Happiness is not an achievement.  Enough is never enough.  Accomplishment-oriented people will always yearn for another cruise or that one stamp that is missing from the collection.  He who dies with the most toys…dies
Thankfully, there is another way to think about our final years.
In his book From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life, author Arthur Brooks suggests that instead of trying to “bucket list” our way to a level of satisfaction that will always be just out of reach, we can choose to do less.   
Instead of wondering how to add more, we can endeavor to be less busy, less hurried, and less overwhelmed by self-imposed obligations.    
What if we committed an entire year just to getting better at living out a single verse? 
That verse might be Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”  Or perhaps Matthew 6:25: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” 
In the process, we may discover that joy was always nearby.  It was just covered up by everything on our To Do lists.   
British author and theologian C.S. Lewis once observed, “He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only.”
Which means our buckets have always been full. 
We just didn’t know it.