Friday, March 15, 2013

God's Path to Happiness

Jesus wants us to be happy
God created us with the capacity to be happy.  We are so often discontent with our lives, we forget the happiness we have been given.  We are made to feel pleasure, to enjoy life, to have joy, to be satisfied with what we have.  God’s purpose for us all is for us to be happy in Him, to live lives of deep joy and contentment.  This doesn’t mean that we won’t suffer, nor does it mean that we won’t also feel deep sorrow.  But the overall purpose of our existence is not to mourn, but to rejoice.  For some of us, the long-lasting joy will have to wait until eternity.  But we can all experience satisfaction and happiness now.

Happiness comes from lifestyle choices
Studies have shown that our genetic make up—whether we are generally a melancholy or bubbly person— only accounts for 10 percent of our level of happiness.  And our experiences—whether someone insults us or we win the lottery—only accounts for 30 percent of whether we are generally happy or not.  What really makes us happy or not is in our control. 

This doesn’t mean that we should pursue happiness or positive thinking.  Just thinking happy thoughts actually just means that we try to suppress negative thoughts and that doesn’t work. Rather the way to be happy is to develop habits which make us satisfied in the long term.  Happiness isn’t the same as pleasure—we must pursue long-term solutions, not short-term excitements.

Basic Needs
Money doesn’t make us happy.  Studies have shown that money can make us happy, if we are desperate to have our needs fulfilled, and money makes us satisfy those needs.  But it isn’t the money that makes us happy, but the meeting of our basic needs.  After one’s basic needs are met, then money has nothing to do with happiness.  To be happy, we need to make sure we have what our bodies need: good food, water, rest, health, and connection to other people.
“Give me neither poverty nor riches, give me the food I need.” Proverbs 30:8

New Experiences
So often we think that if we had this item, we would be happy.  The new television, the better computer, the bigger house, the collection of stuff we’d wanted for so long.  But stuff only makes us happy for a moment because we are ultimately no different than the child we were who would be overjoyed at the gift we longed for, and then seek the next item as soon as the last was opened.  Studies have shown that instead of trying to grab more stuff, we should seek experiences.  We should go out on dates with our spouses, take walks in beautiful neighborhoods, cook and enjoy a particularly good meal.  Things don’t give us memories, good, unique experiences do.

In order to be happy, we need to be thankful for what good we have.  It is easy for some of us to focus on complaining on what we don’t have or on how our lives fall short of our ideal.  If we want to be happy, we need to make a regular habit of looking at the good in our lives and being grateful for it.  My family gathers once a week to thank God for what good has happened that week.  In the worst weeks, we thank God we are alive and breathing.  But almost every week, each of us has something specific that we are grateful for.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above.” James 1:17  “In everything give thanks.” I Thessalonians 5:18

We always have parts of our lives that aren’t going the way we want.  Sometimes it seems that there is nothing in our lives that is going right.  Everything seems negative or hopeless.  We could complain, but that doesn’t help our attitude.  We could get angry, but that only deepens our frustration with life.  When we are tempted to complain, we don’t need to put on a false attitude of happiness, but we can look at our lives and say, “I can live with this.”  Our lives may not be what we want, but we can teach ourselves to be content with what we have, especially if we can’t change it.
“I have learned to be content in all circumstances.” Philippians 4:11

There are times in our lives in which we deeply suffer.  Some of us live in deep poverty.  Some of us are attacked or caused real pain. At some point we lose someone we have deeply loved. Others of us have chronic health conditions.  Some of us deal with pain on a regular basis. Some of us suffer because of our own poor choices—overwork, sin, additions, pain in relationships.  These conditions certainly effect our happiness, and no amount of “happy thinking” will change that.  However, in every kind of suffering we endure, there is a benefit we can obtain from it.  We cannot just expect good will come out of suffering, but we have to seek it.  If our suffering comes from sin, we can seek repentance and forgiveness.  If our suffering comes from illness, we can seek health.  If our suffering comes from being attacked, we can seek God’s redemption.  The funny thing is, when we return to our “normal” state after suffering, we are happier than we were before.  Enduring through suffering and seeking help actually makes us happy, and more content with our lives.
“We exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation leads to endurance, endurance to proven character, and proven character to hope.”  Romans 5:3-4

Contemplative Silence
Our world is more hectic than ever, and our own busyness is often our own worst enemy.  We all can reach a point when we are so active that we become ineffective in the very actions we pursue, and this leads to frustration and hopelessness.  To reduce this frustration, we all need times of silence and focus.  This doesn’t mean that we just tell everyone to shut up, but we get away from others and their expectations and from all the work we need to do and we just stay quiet before God.  We listen to Him and to what He wants to say.  Perhaps He will say nothing.  Perhaps we can just enjoy the rest.  But in order for us to remain content, we must have time with God, focusing on Him alone.
“Early in the morning, when it was still dark, Jesus got up, left everyone, went to a secluded place and prayed.” Mark 1:35

Positive relationships
Our relationships with others deeply affect our attitudes toward life in general.  Our unhappiness increases as we are isolated or lonely.  No matter how irritating or frustrating other people can be, they still are the ones who will grant us the greatest source of happiness in our lives.  The fact is, though, people can be—inevitably WILL be—irritating and frustrating, no matter how much we care about them.  And it is rare for a person to be so bad that they will always be a source of pain and not joy.  The habit we need to develop with others is to seek the positive and avoid the negative.  Not to get rid of negative people, but to find the positive in all people.  The worst person has a good habit or intentions—seek that, develop that in your interactions with the person.  You can’t make them better, but you can encourage what you love about them when they are with you.
“Love one another” John 13:34

Serve others
So many people think that happiness is created by focusing on oneself, and one’s own pleasures or contentment.  But one of the greatest tools of our own happiness is acting on our compassion for others.  The happiest people in the world are those who regularly serve others, to no benefit for themselves.  God made us to be content only when we are taking part of our lives to serve others.  Seek a regular opportunity to serve those in need.  Volunteer at a local organization or church that helps the poor.  Keep socks or breakfast bars to give to the homeless when they have a sign.  One of the best feelings you will have is after you hear “thank you” from another person.
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.” Luke 12:33

Thanks to those who have studied the psychology of happiness over the past couple decades.  This article was inspired by their studies and many of the points drawn from their conclusions.

1 comment:

Prodigal Knot said...

Thank you, Steve, for remaining a faithful servant to the poor and homeless! And keep showing them your happiness, which is your way to draw them to the light that is Christ.