The Elusive Carrot on a stick

Ah. The ever-elusive carrot–the holy grail that has you thinking if only I could get the carrot, then I would be ok. I know you’re probably thinking, “I am not chasing a carrot!” The truth is, we’re all chasing something—a better job, a bigger home, a more beautiful car, meaningful relationships, etc. Usually, the things we are pursuing are slightly out of our reach. It requires determination, perseverance, and relentlessness.

There’s a terrifying question that comes to mind when I think of the carrots I’m chasing. “What if my carrot is on a stick?” Meaning, what if the “carrot” I’m chasing is just an illusion?

By and large, life in America continues to get more and more miserable. That’s not just my opinion; that’s a fact, according to a Washington Post article. Happiness in America peaked in the early 90s; since then, it has plummetted. Since 1990, we’ve seen a 50% increase in unhappiness. Even more alarming, another report shows that our overall life satisfaction has also plunged by 6% in that period. Research suggests that American adults have been getting less happy since 2000, while adolescents have been experiencing more depression, suicidal ideation, and self-harm since 2010. In short, we have an epidemic of unhappiness in America.

So, what carrot are Americans chasing? What carrot is proving to be so elusive in our nation? Happiness.

The reality is, in our world, “happiness” is an illusion. I believe that happiness is a universal desire. Deep down, we all want to be happy. Unfortunately, in today’s world, genuine happiness is a rare commodity. People who have bought into the illusion of happiness use things like money, relationships, friends, their body, etc., as vehicles to achieve certain ‘positive’ emotional states.

This illusion of happiness is dangling in front of many people as a desirable carrot. Unfortunately, the more we pursue happiness, the more fleeting it becomes. Happiness is a choice. There are people in this world that have nothing, and still, they choose to be happy. Similarly, some people have all the money in the world, but they still aren’t fulfilled. Whatever the circumstances are in our lives, we always have the power to choose how we feel.

Most of humanity spends its life in pursuit of things that they believe will fill the void, the hunger, the nagging sense of emptiness, and the longing for purpose in their lives. Most people are unable to approach the sum of their desires. Therefore, it is easy, even tempting, to assume that the key to the elusive carrot of happiness lies in possessing something we don’t have.

Solomon was perhaps uniquely positioned, with wealth and opportunity in front of him to try this theory out for us. He says in the book of Ecclesiastes, that he gave his heart whatever it desired, to see if it would bring him happiness. Each endeavor failed.

Solomon searched for happiness in learning (1:13-18); pleasure (2:1-3); accomplishments (2:4-17); hard-work and financial reward (2:18-23, 4:4-12, 6:7-8); popularity and fame (4:13-16); wealth (5:8-6:2); family (6:3-6); and even the anticipation of the future (6:9-12). He ate every carrot that appears to be the answer to finding happiness. What did he find? It was all vanity. Worthless. None of it brought him happiness.

Buying into a belief that when I reach ____, then I will be happy, is dangerous. These elusive carrots will never be able to give you what you are searching for. So what is the answer then? How do we find true happiness? How do I stop chasing the elusive carrot and discover what I need?

The answer? Contenement. I know you are rolling your eyes as you read that. Oh sure, be content. That will solve the missing element in my life? We have a misconception about contentment. Contentment isn’t a matter of being content with your situation in life and never trying to improve it. It’s a matter of being satisfied with what you have — but realizing that as humans, we will always try to improve, no matter how happy we are. If we don’t, we have given up on life.

“Happiness is self-contentedness.” – Aristotle

We choose whether we are happy or unhappy. Read that sentence again if it’s not already something you consciously practice in your daily life. If you’re dissatisfied with your life right now, I will venture to guess that it’s because you’ve chosen to be unhappy. That sounds harsh, but in my experience, it’s entirely true.

You might say, “But my life is a mess! Of course, I’m going to be unhappy!” I hear you: I’ve too had those times when my job wasn’t going well and when my relationships were in turmoil. I know what it’s like when my finances were terrible, and when I was overweight, and my life was a mess.

However, I’ve come to a conclusion — and it’s proven accurate time and again — it’s not my condition that makes me unhappy, but my choice of thoughts, attitude, and behavior.

What behaviors and thoughts and attitudes were different between my times of unhappiness and happiness? When I was unhappy, I focused on all the bad things in my life. Not only that, but I continually thought about how bad they were, and would complain, and would ask, “Why me?” I would let myself sink into inaction and, eventually, depression. I would be grumpy and cause those around me to be unhappy. That, in turn, only made the situation worse.

In contrast, in my happiest moments, life wasn’t always right. Instead, I chose to focus on the things that mattered. I concentrated on the good things in life, the people that I was blessed to be around, the opportunities that I had, and the faithfulness of God.

Discontent is the leading cause of unhappiness. At its root is a constant drive for more. Once you’ve learned to be content, you don’t need more. You can stop acquiring and start enjoying it.

No wonder the Apostle Paul said, “Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth.” – 1 Timothy 6:6. Godliness implies our piety towards God. Godliness is a condition of the heart. Contentment refers to the independence of external circumstances. It is impossible to be content when our hearts are set on gaining more. We will not remain godly for long if we are not satisfied with what God has given us. A greedy, covetous spirit quickly erodes a desire for godliness.

Being content doesn’t mean that I’m ok with where life currently is. It merely means I’m no longer chasing an elusive carrot of happiness. It says I am satisfied with that I have. That I’m no longer madly trying to acquire something I don’t have, I’m enjoying what I do have.

Count your blessings. Stop and remind yourself of all of your blessings. Take time to appreciate your life for what it is. Show people that you cherish them. Breathe and smile. Learn to enjoy the simple things. Follow Solomon’s advice, “Rid yourself of all worry and pain, because the wonderful moments of youth quickly disappear.” – Ecclesiastes 11:10 CEB

Life is too short to be unhappy. Rid yourself of the worry and pain of chasing after carrots. The beautiful moments of life pass quickly. Don’t miss out on them because your focus was on an elusive carrot.

Published by Joshua McElhaney

Joshua McElhaney has served over 15 years in ministry, serving as both an Assistant Pastor for over a decade, and as lead Pastor. During his time in leadership, Joshua learned many valuable lessons about leading. Using his own experiences and the troves of Biblical treasures, McElhaney has created resources that will enlighten, empower, and enable leaders across the spectrum to lead the way God has called them to lead. Joshua married Karena, his college sweetheart, in June of 2007. Together they have three beautiful children; Mayli, Jaxson, and Asher.

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