ABC News just aired an interesting show on its program 20-20 entitled Happiness. They were attempting to answer various questions including—What is it?, Is it in your DNA? Can you create happiness for yourself? What are the happiest nations and why?
Our pursuit of happiness is guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence, I understand they even capitalized the “H”. We live in the land of the “smiley face”, the “Happy Meal”, the laugh track, and the “happy hour”. We are all in the pursuit of happiness—but can it be caught? I saw a poll done years ago about what people wanted out of life. The number one answer was happiness.
Is happiness in your DNA? Scientists say that a little chunk of your brain above the eyes called the frontal lobe determines your inclination or natural degree of happiness. There is a chemical soup in the brain that scientists are just beginning to understand. It is here that imagination and fantasies originate. One group of researchers estimated that 60% of your happiness is genetic, so there are definitely happy brains and unhappy brains by nature. They think 10% of your happiness is determined by circumstances, which leaves 30% controlled by your will. Studying twins with the same genes allowed the researchers to measure the difference between twins that do more meaningful work, make more money, work at having a good attitude, and nurture meaningful relationships. There is a measurable improvement in happiness of the twin that does these things, so clearly you can take steps in your life to improve your happiness.
Power of Positive Thinking
The fundamentals they identified on the show that can affect happiness were:
1. Money—not how much you make but whether you make more or less than your peers.
2. Meaningful work—people who feel their work is important and enjoyable are happier
3. Meaningful relationships—who you do stuff with is as important as what you do
4. Social contact—we are social beings that do better with a lot of contact
5. Willfully working at transforming your brain—force yourself to be compassionate, grateful, generous, and pleasant until it becomes natural.
The feedback on money’s role was interesting because people with a super lot of money are less happy. People who feel like they are making more than their friends and family are happier. I guess this makes sense that its not the money itself or even the stuff it buys, but to have more than the next guy makes you feel good about yourself. Think about it—our generation is 10 to 20 times more wealthy in money and stuff, but still not happier than people 50-60 years ago.
Can You Get It From Your Children?
Most people believe (or want to believe) that having children is important for happiness, but studies show having children doesn’t make you happy and teenage children make you miserable. As the comedian said, “Insanity is hereditary; you get it from your children”.
Parents say their daughter can’t find anything to wear in a closet full of clothes and their son can’t find anything to eat in a refrigerator full of food. Mark Twain had an interesting idea, “When a kid turns thirteen, stick him in a barrel, nail the lid shut, and feed him through the knot hole. When he turns sixteen, plug the hole.”
I told my son that his room was a trash bin and if he didn’t clean his room I was going to start charging rent. He asked how much, and I said $50 a week. He replied, “For this dump?”
Believe it or not, America was not the happiest country according to their research. We came in at 23rd place. Denmark was number one which surprised a lot of people because it is cold and dreary there, they have a 63% tax rate, and no racial diversity, they are over 90% Danes. Materialism is almost non-existent there. It is not a capitalist economy. Their emphasis is not on how much you make, but on what you enjoy doing. Status has more to do with how you treat people than what you have. They have the least crime and violence, but are the most honest and trusting.
Was Jesus Happy?
Even though a lot of our natural, worldly happiness is determined at birth by genes, location, and circumstances; is there a spiritual connection that could revolutionize the way we think and act? Consider the difficult circumstances of Jesus’ birth and life—born and raised in poverty and obscurity, even disgrace. He was rejected by His brothers and sisters (Jn.7:5), His home town of Nazareth (Luke 4:28), and the nation of Israel. Nevertheless Jesus had a purely spiritual perspective and so was content and joyful all the time. He was actually accused of having too good a time by the Pharisees. They stood outside a party for Him at Levi’s house and complained that He was “eating and drinking” too much. Jesus was the perfect example of what Paul called “walking in the Spirit” in Galatians 5:16. Paul went on to describe the “fruits” of walking in the Spirit as being “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Now that’s HAPPINESS. In fact since Jesus perfectly lived out this “walking in the Spirit”, He was the only person who has ever been truly perfectly happy.
The Psalms are full of descriptions about happiness as well as commands to be happy. They all involve a spiritual perspective. Often the Psalmist is lamenting his circumstances, yet stops to say that in spite of his circumstances he has great hope and joy in the Lord, “happy is he whose hope is in the Lord” (Ps.146:5). David lamented in Ps.5 that his circumstances were bad and he was getting no relief but, he would “take refuge in the Lord and be glad”. In Ps.9, David was beset by wicked men, but in spite of his circumstances he said, “I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart”. David went on to say his hope and trust was in the Lord and he knew God would bring justice in the end. In Ps.13, David complained that God seemed to have forgotten him. David’s enemy appeared to be winning; still the answer to his problems is in verse 5, “I have trusted in thy lovingkindness, my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation”. David’s life was a wild ride of victories, heartache, mistakes, and trouble; but through it all his spiritual perspective sustained him. No matter what happened, or how he felt emotionally, he knew God was with him and he believed God’s promises.
The Mark of a True Apostle
In Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, he wrote that there were false apostles there in Corinth who were criticizing him. The true mark of an Apostle of Jesus Christ in the first century was not an eloquent voice or a comely appearance, but it was servanthood and sacrifice. In 2 Cor.11:23 Paul wrote, “Are they servants of Christ? I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked…”. Paul went on to say that God actually used all those difficult and painful situations to exalt Christ and spread the Gospel, “therefore I am well content, I take pleasure, with weaknesses, insults, distresses…for Christ’s sake.”(2 Cor.12:10) Imagine having all that happen to you and still being content and happy. Paul had earlier explained this spiritual perspective by saying, “we look not at the things that are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2Cor.4:18) In 2 Cor.6:10, he said his troubles might make him “sorrowful yet always rejoicing…as having nothing yet possessing all things.”
Both Paul and James wrote that adversity has a positive side to it and with a spiritual perspective; it is possible to rejoice in the midst of adversity. “We exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.”(Rom.5:3-4) “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”(James 1:2)
I think the “capper” is 1 Thes. 5:16, “Rejoice always!” and Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice” What kind of thinking produces such an idea that in spite of your adverse circumstances you should have great joy? They were convinced that God was at work, that God has a great plan that is much bigger than us. We may not be able to comprehend God’s plan in the short run, but we believe He is doing something wonderful. In the case of the authors of the Bible, we can see that God used them to start Christianity and change the whole world. In prison in Rome, Paul wrote that whatever happened he knew it would be to God’s glory so he would be happy about it. His spiritual perspective was wrapped up in a short verse, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”(Phil.1:21) Next week: How do you get a spiritual perspective? CHARLIE