A Gathering Voices Post by Lynne M. Baab
If you haven’t noticed numerous recent articles, blog posts and TV shows about happiness, you’re missing one of the fascinating trends of our time: an explosion in research on happiness. For most of history, happiness was viewed as a by-product of living an ethical and loving life. People should, in that view, seek after worthy goals and high purposes for their lives, and happiness will follow. Happiness may not be constant and pervasive, but moments of true happiness will be the reward for a life of character.
Recent research indicates that some aspects of happiness may be within our control. For example, Sonya Lyubomirsky’s book, The How of Happiness, describes her research using twin studies. She concludes that roughly 50% of an individual’s happiness level is genetically determined. She argues that an additional 10% of happiness is affected by life circumstances and situation, and 40% is under our own control and can be influenced by the choices we make.
The word “happy” seldom appears in the Bible. In passages like Psalm 1 and the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-11), the word “blessed” appears in most translations, but a few translations use “happy” instead. I wrote a Thoughtful Christian lesson on happiness, and when I wrote it, I talked with several friends and colleagues about happiness. I asked them about their perception of happiness versus blessedness related to the Beatitudes and statements in the Psalms about being blessed.
All of them said that being happy and being blessed have significantly different meanings to them. Happiness implies that we can independently arrive at that state, while being blessed implies that something has come to us from beyond ourselves as a gift, and when a gift comes from somewhere or someone else, it implies a relationship with a giver. When receiving a gift, dependence and trust come into the picture, which may not be the case when experiencing happiness. Another key word in the Bible is joy, and my interviewees had a lot to say about the relationship between happiness and joy.
The happiness research can stimulate interesting discussions and fruitful pondering about a Christian view of happiness. I’ve adapted some of the questions from my Thoughtful Christian lesson, Understanding Happiness, for you to ponder, journal about, or discuss with family members and friends:
1. What do you think is the relationship between being happy and being blessed? Between happiness and joy? What do you consider to be a Christian view of happiness?
2. What messages about happiness did you receive from your family of origin? In what ways have you responded to them? If you could go back in time and talk to your childhood or teenage self, what would you say about happiness?
3. Do you agree with the writers on happiness who argue that the way a person conceives of happiness tells us a lot about that person? In what ways have you found that your friends’ and relatives’ perspective on happiness tells you something significant about them?
4. The American Declaration of Independence mentions the unalienable right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” given by the Creator. Do you agree that God gave these rights to people? In what ways do you think it’s productive to talk about them? In what ways have these words shaped American culture and perhaps other cultures as well?