I believe that there is a deep connection between:
To provide some balance, I also believe that there is a connection between:
Before we start, please note two obvious points.
Firstly, I am saying that these things are connected; I am not saying that the connection is instant or inevitable.
Secondly, I am not saying that enjoying yourself or using things is wrong. It is a question of degree and balance: if your main focus is on things and your personal pleasure, your life will head in one direction; if your main focus is on activity and other people, your life will head in a different direction.
The bottom line is this: actions have consequences, and frequently repeated actions are more likely to have a larger impact on your life than a bunch of good intentions.
Pleasure is not bad. In fact, pleasure is good: God created it. But, like all good things, it can be missed and it can be misused.
We are designed to naturally seek pleasure and avoid pain. Of course, pleasure and pain are the two extremes of a continuum of experience. Some things are mildly enjoyable, satisfying or amusing; and others are slightly uncomfortable, irritating or boring. But most things fit somewhere on this scale, and we like them or we dislike them.
For the sake of simplicity, I intend to use the term 'pleasure' for anything on the one side of the scale, and 'pain' for anything on the other. I know there are other words which could be used, but in the circumstances, I don't think using them would add to the discussion.
As we grow, we learn that some short term pleasure leads to long term pain, and some short term pain leads to long term pleasure. We learn that if we eat nothing but sweets and watch TV instead of studying, we will end up fat, sick and in a miserable job; so we discipline ourselves to study and eat a healthy diet. Similarly, we learn to brush our teeth so that we can avoid toothache.
Some people learn this lesson so well that they start to believe all uncomfortable, unpleasant things are good for them. Theologically, some people end up believing that if I don't want to do something, it must be God's will for me.
This is never taught, and it is never applied consistently, but for many people it is still a significant factor in their life.
The Bible does not teach us to seek pleasure, or to avoid it. We are told to seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.
We focus so often on the subject of pleasure, and whether we should seek it or avoid it, but this is the wrong question. The question is not whether we should seek pleasure, but what sort of pleasure we should seek.
The Bible is quite clear on the subject: pleasure is to be welcomed as a consequence of living right, but it is not to be sought as a goal in itself. I do not seek pleasure, but I take pleasure in the things I do. I take pride and satisfaction in a job well done; I enjoy seeing people blessed, strengthened and encouraged through the things I do and the things I make possible - which is one reason why I teach and make these articles available on the Internet.
In short: loving other people and doing God's will brings happiness and blessing; and this results in the greatest and most sustainable pleasure. Nothing else works long term.
I sometimes talk with people who are not sure what to do with their life. I can't tell them what to do, but there are a few general principles, and one of the most important is this: use your gifts.
Everybody has gifts, everybody has things they are good at. In general, these are things they enjoy doing - you are unlikely to become good at something if you don't practice, and you are unlikely to practice as much as you need to if you don't - at some level - enjoy what you are doing.
Many people deny that they have any gifts. In part, this may be due to false modesty; but it is often due to the fact that the things we are good at normally feel easy.
There is something deep about using your gift. It connects you with something deep within, and it accomplishes something meaningful. Everything we think of as a 'gift' accomplishes something good, makes peoples lives better, happier and healthier. Using and developing your gift enriches you, and it enriches your friends and society as a whole.
The challenge here is other people. If you want to achieve anything, sooner or later you will need to involve other people. The aim is to use your gifts and involve other people; the temptation is to decide what you want to achieve, and then use other people to help you achieve it.
At one level, we use other people as a means to an end all the time. I am writing this on a train, so I am using the train driver as part of the means by which I get to my destination. Every time I buy a sandwich in a shop, I am using the person behind the counter as the means by which I get some food.
But these examples are superficial. We all meet and interact with many people in a purely functional way, and there is nothing wrong with this as long as we don't forget that it is a human being, a real person, who is delivering the service to us.
What is much more important is the way we treat the people who are significant to us: friends, family, work colleagues. The important people need to be treated as people. They may also be helpful in all kinds of ways, but first and foremost they must be important for what they are - people! - and not for what they do.
I have phrased this point in ethical terms, but it works equally well from a pragmatic perspective. You cannot have a happy and successful life on your own, and if you want people to care about you, they need to feel that you care about them. If you make a habit of using the people around you, you will probably find that they don't stay around for very long.
So, in the long run, if you concentrate on using your gifts for some worthwhile cause, you will enjoy what you are doing
Being true to yourself sounds like a very selfish goal, and, let's be honest, it is often used as an excuse for selfishness.
But, when you think about it, if you want an alternative to being true to yourself, you probably need to try living a lie. It's not a great recipe for a happy and successful life.
The first step, if you wish to be true to yourself, is to learn to be honest. It's not easy. Early in life, we learn that things become difficult when we don't fit in. But each person is unique, with abilities, experiences, preferences, values and goals which differ from those of the people around us. We may pretend to be the same, in order to fit in. We are suspicious of people who are different, so we learn how to pretend that we ourselves are not different. We live the lie so successfully that we lose touch with who we really are.
In Christian terms, discovering who I am is the same as discovering who God created me to be. I was put together in a certain way, a unique way, and God does not make mistakes.
What matters to you? What people, projects and issues are important to you?
So much of our life is tied up with conforming to the people around us
The connection has been made by many people: the connection between your thoughts and your destiny.
Of course, this is horribly simplistic. Every one of these steps can be amplified, but each step is essentially true. For example, your character is shaped through discipline, practice and attention; but these things are all a part of the things we habitually do.