The October 12th issue of Tme magazine had an interesting article on happiness. Let me share some of the things that struck me.
People in the USA think of happiness differently than other people in the world. (We also think of it differently than the founders of the USA. See my blog post titled “the Pursuit of Happiness“.) Other cultures view happiness as a group event. Social interaction is intended to increase the happiness of others as well as myself. To us, happiness is an individual pursuit of success, possessions, and status. Yet these self-focused pursuits lead us to continual disappointment and discouragement instead of the happiness we seek.
Besides a major worldview overhaul of seeing happiness as a group event rather than an individual quest, there are five simple suggestions that science says can help in our happiness.
- Relax. People who view time as a limited resource are more happy within calm rather than excitement.
- Schedule. Intentionally schedule times/events that produce happiness.
- Be Present. Rather than agonizing over what has passed or what has not yet come, live in the right now.
- Get Real. No one can be happy all the time. Embrace the sunny days when they come, and accept the rainy days that are certain to appear. In fact, be thankful for that rain.
- Savor. Enjoy good moments when they come. Don’t take them for granted. And reflect on those good times, reliving the feelings.
I read an interesting article a few weeks ago. (Time Magazine, July 8-15 issue, pg 38+) It was about what the Founding Fathers, specifically Jefferson, had in mind when he penned “…the pursuit of happiness” into the Declaration of Independence. I am sure those of you who paid attention in US History class in high school are quite aware of what the word happiness meant to them, but this discovery was eye-opening and discouraging to me.
Aristotle and the Greeks had a strong impact on these leaders who declared their independence. The Greeks believed people found meaning in their relationships with other human beings. In fact, the Greek word for happiness, eudaimonia, was associated with good conduct and generous citizenship. Thus, those who first read Jefferson’s words “the pursuit of happiness” interpreted it to mean “the pursuit of the good for the whole” because to them the good of the whole was critical to the good of the individual. Another way to think of it is “the pursuit of individual excellence that shapes the life of a broader community”.
The idea that I am not the central focus of the “pursuit of happiness” sounds crazy. Happiness, in this culture, is about more possessions, feeling good, power, and living extravagant lifestyles. Yet that isn’t what Jefferson had in mind. His pursuit of happiness does not free me to do whatever I want because it gives me immediate pleasure. It does not excuse me to take the easy way because the right way is difficult. It isn’t just about me.
It’s about loving one another. It’s about doing good when good is hard. It’s giving grace to people who I don’t really like because I count on grace from others every day. It’s pitching into an activity that’s good for the community even if I don’t see how it’s going to help me. It’s putting aside temporary feeling to gain long-term positive results.
There is nothing wrong with personal happiness, and there is certainly personal responsibility involved in happiness. However, to what ends will I go to achieve it? Who must weep so I can laugh?
weekly theme #36*
week containing the Sunday between July 3-9
Some people refer to the Gospel as the Good News. Good News. I’m so familiar with the Good News that I treat it as commonplace. I don’t appreciate just how good the Good News is! Moreover, the unbelievable news is that God gives me the authority and honor to tell others the Good News. The Good News includes death, life, redemption, and unity. It includes all people, time, and creation. It is open to all and demanding of each. It is simple and also complex.
The Good News was God’s plan from the beginning. That fact, in itself, is good news. The God of love, power, and wisdom has a plan for all creation – in part and in whole. The Gospel is Good News not because it promises heaven on earth, but because the God of heaven and earth came and lived among us. He modeled a life that included betrayal, opposition, and all sorts of pain. Nevertheless, he also modeled redemption, love, and resurrection. The Gospel does not erase or prevent pain and difficulties, but it allows hope, even joy, through those trials. As David said to his LORD, “You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and wine.” (Psalm 4:7)
I’ve struggled to find a definition for joy that clarifies how it differs from happiness. The best I’ve heard is joy is “a sense of happiness even when there seems to be no reasons for happiness”. Jesus is the substance of the Good News, and that is the greatest reason for joy.
*A Guide To Prayer by Job and Shawchuck provided the scripture references and readings that inspired these reflections. I found this devotional to be the most heart changing of any I’ve used. It truly lives up to its title.
The Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel
A friend was so impressed with this book that he bought several of us the book, and we discussed it over a period of weeks. It was well worth the time.
The book is practical (Surround yourself with people who have faith – encouragers.), comforting (God is love; he can’t help but love you.), and challenging (Worry is the opposite of faith. Worry is sin.) It is an excellent book for group discussion because it covers areas that commonly challenge followers of Jesus: guilt, injustice, money, shame, and forgiveness to name a few.
It also speaks at a level appropriate for all believers making it easy to understand and apply.
My notes on this book can be downloaded in MS Word format from the blue “FILES box” in the left side-bar of this blog.