Bhutan’s reformist king Jigme Singye Wangchuck coined the term “gross national happiness” in 1972. He was seeking a less materialistic alternative to gross national product as a measure of progress in seeking to modernize his landlocked Himalayan nation along Buddhist spiritual lines. Not even in America, whose founding document declared the pursuit of happiness to be an inalienable right, has a head of state seriously proposed to incorporate happiness into national policy-making. However, as the young king soon discovered, it is one thing to identify happiness as a goal and quite another to measure progress, much less to achieve it. Social scientists were eventually able to develop a survey to measure the population’s well-being; however, its various indicators were necessarily dependent upon subjective evaluations.
We need not be surprised that the collective pursuit of happiness should prove difficult to pin down, given how ephemeral we find it as individuals – or don’t find it, as the case may be. Happiness is one of those ambitions that author John Kay has identified as best pursued by indirection, which is to say, not pursued at all. Kay has written a management book called Obliquity, advising business executives that certain goals, such as maximizing profits, may prove elusive unless they focus on their customers and employees rather than on maximizing profits as such. Arriving at a desired destination without heading there is an approach that can be applied to other areas of life as well, notably the pursuit of happiness. Kay draws upon the wisdom of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote: "Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”
It occurs to me that the same might be said of our efforts to find God. Perhaps the reason we fail so often is that God is not hidden. If, as Paul Tillich suggested, God is the ground of being, where do we look that he is not at hand? Our problem is that the very act of seeking blinds us to his presence. Why should this be so? So that God’s grace may abound. Grace, by definition, requires no effort on our part, which is the whole point. Once we have learned to cease striving, we just might discover that we already have what we seek.