All Hat, No Cattle: Pharrell’s Happy And The Empty Promise Of Modern Society


Pharrell Williams’ 2013 smash hit Happy is a fun, catchy, memorable frolic through the high points of life.  As far as pop art goes, I enjoy it.  I dance to it with unashamed passion and gusto.  As such, it should be mandatory soundtrack music for anyone in a good mood.  And therein lies one of the tragic realities of such a joyous overture.

I am not blaming Pharrell.  Pharrell, I want you to hear me clearly — I’ve got nothing but love for your art.  It is amazing stuff, really.  But, consider the lyrics for a moment and see if you can spot the erroneous thinking hidden deep within:

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

Wait a second.  Happiness is the truth?  Is that what Pharrell’s song is proclaiming?  Is it possible that Mr. Williams believes that happiness is reality?  It seems that way given the song’s bridge:

Can’t nothing bring me down
My level’s too high

One of the myths of modern culture is that the pursuit of happiness is the chief end of life and reality.  If you can discover happiness, modern prophets proclaim, in the form of sex, food, relationships, experiences, art, whatever, then you will discover the ultimate meaning of life. This is a fine claim — except that it does not support the supreme weight of experience. What happens when your levels drop and you become depressed?  Has meaning been lost?  And if meaning has been lost, was it really universal and absolute meaning?

Or consider these common life experiences: What happens when death happens?  Death happens to everyone. Is that happy?  Know enough people wrestling with death and you will see that happiness doesn’t exist in cancer wards.

Or military funerals.  Or many types funerals for that matter.  So do grieving people miss out on truth?

What about people bound up in sex trafficking? The FBI estimates that this number is in the millions.  Millions of girls and boys are forced into this modern day slavery each year.  And many of them become strippers in gentlemen’s clubs as a way of escaping sex trafficking.  And in these clubs there is, no doubt, happy music and optimism from customers. But these are certainly not happy people doing the dancing.  Where is the truth here?

If only there was an ultimate Truth that was not bound by a temporary state of being, that could envelop the good and bad, happiness and sadness, highs and lows that life and death have to offer.

Oh but there is.  Jesus Christ, who lived and died and lived again about 2000 years ago said this of himself in John 14:6, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father but through me.” Jesus is The Truth for strippers.  For grieving parents.  For people in cancer wards. For those struggling with depression. And, for happy people. Unlike happiness itself, Jesus can handle all the ups and downs and in-betweens of life.  Why?  Because He is The Truth.

So Pharrell, I want you to know that while I love most of your song, I have pulled a Weird Al and chosen to sing along with the following modifications:

Because He’s Jesus
Clap along if you feel like Jesus is the truth

Can’t nothing bring me down
My God’s too high

About Doug Hankins

Although not a Christian in his youth, Doug came to believe in Jesus during his teenage years. When not playing sports or pastoring Doug is probably spending time with his wife, reading a good book, or drinking some hot tea. Doug's first book Dawson Trotman: In His Own Words is available wherever books are sold. You can follow Doug on twitter.
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