The Secret to Happiness

smileA recent Gallup poll surveyed the happiness levels of Americans and has found that the levels are at a four-year high. Almost 60 percent of Americans say they feel happy, and they do not have a lot of stress or worry.

The Center for Disease Control looked at another aspect of life and found that about 40% of Americans haven’t discovered a satisfying life purpose, and almost 25% of Americans report they do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful.

The quest for happiness and the search for meaning have different results. Researchers agree that when a person engages in a single-minded quest for happiness he discovers a pot of dissatisfaction at the end of his rainbow.

This was the sad case of the prodigal son. Victor Frankl showed an understanding of this paradox when he said: “It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.”

Frankl’s understanding of meaning, life’s purpose, and happiness was formed under the harsh conditions of a Nazi concentration camp. Frankl wrote of his experience in the 1946 best seller Man’s Search for Meaning. He had come to the conclusion that the difference between those who had lived and those who had died came down to one thing—meaning. His fellow prisoners who had found meaning in the dire conditions of the death camp were much more resilient than those who had not.

Frankl’s conclusions have been supported by research that shows the value of having purpose and meaning in life:

• It increases overall well-being and life satisfaction
• It improves mental and physical health
• It enhances resiliency, and self-esteem, and it decreases the chances of depression.

The Journal of Positive Psychology reported on research by Jennifer Aaker of Stanford Graduate School of Business. Aaker and her colleagues, found that “Happiness was linked to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness went with being a giver rather than a taker.”

The Apostle Paul knew a little something about givers and takers: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

How about you? Are you a giver or a taker? When you find the answer to this question, you may find your purpose in life.

The Cadence of His Voice

cadenceSome people misinterpret the 10 Commandments and the principles of the New Testament as rigid walls erected by God to deny them access to the pleasures of life.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Whenever God says, “Thou shalt not,” it’s to keep you from stubbing your toe or skinning a knee.  Every time He say, “Thou shalt,” He’s inviting you to skip with joy and whistle a tune of happiness.

When you hear the cadence of His voice and walk in step with Him, you discover that He is your strength and shield.

Blessed be the Lord, because He has heard the voice of my supplications! The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; therefore, my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him (Psalm 28:7).

Happiness: A Key or a Principle

keyHe’s no locksmith, but Michael Porter thinks he has discovered an important key—the key to happiness. Porter, a Harvard economist, has been researching social process and how to measure it.

Through his research, Porter has found the key to a person’s happiness is the opportunity to change and better one’s life:  Porter’s research suggests this “is a crucial but elusive ingredient to a smoothly functioning society—or what, at the individual level, one might call happiness (Quartz).”

Another researcher, Dr. Stephen Post, has studied the different components of happiness for several years.  He believes the key to genuine happiness is found in living the Golden Rule.

When you do unto others as you would have them do unto you, there’s a good chance that you’re a person who volunteers to help those in need. The willingness to help others can enhance your sense of well-being.

A study found that 41% of people who volunteer an average of 100 hours a year report a greater sense of well-being, saying that volunteering

  • 68%: “has made me feel physically healthier
  • 92%: “enriches my sense of purpose in life
  • 73%: “lowers my stress levels,”
  • 96%: “makes people happier,”
  • 77%: “improves emotional health,”
  • 78% also reported that volunteering helps with recovery “from loss and disappointment”

Typically, people who give of themselves to others have less trouble sleeping,  and they experience less anxiety, less helplessness & hopelessness.  They also report better friendships and social networks, and sense of control over chronic conditions than people who are more self-centered.

In his, It’s Good To Be Good, research, Post says:  ….as one achieves a certain shift from selfishness to concern for others, benefits accrue.   His research suggests that a person may feel good when he gives a financial gift to an individual or a cause; however, the benefits of helping others are most pronounced in direct person-to-person “hands on” activities.

The key research by Porter and Post simply validates the principle posited by Jesus over a thousand years ago:  Treat others the same way you want them to treat, and you both will be blessed.

When we embrace the words of Jesus and begin to live the Golden Rule, a satisfying life is within our reach.  According to Post, one way to elevate happiness is to reach out in helping behaviors and contribute to the lives of others. That happiness in turn elevates giving, which in turn elevates happiness. The two fuel each other in a circular fashion – a classic feedback loop.

The words of Dr. Albert Schweitzer leave us with a thought worth thinking: The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve

Eudemonics: You Da’ Man!

You_Da_Man_Recordable_Greeting_Card_By_Urban_Chakkar_729834You da’ man!  You’ve probably heard this exclamation after someone has done something great or unusual. The only reason I even mention You da man, is to help you with the pronunciation of Eudemonic (yoo-di-mon-ik).

A lot of what I do focuses on the end results of Eudemonics which is behavior that produces happiness and a sense of well-being.  This type of happiness is not associated with the circumstances of the world, but it has more to do with the concept of joy and your relationship with the Lord.

With this in mind, it’s easy to identify a few of the Eudemonic Principles in the Bible.  There is the:

  • Joy of Knowing God:  But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; Let those also who love Your name Be joyful in You (Psalm 5:11)
  • Joy of Forgiveness:  Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered (Psalm 32:1)
  • Joy of Mercy: Praise the Lord! Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever (Psalm 106:1)
  • Joy of Restoration:  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit (Psalm 51:12)

I encourage you to give some thought to your relationship with God, and to take the time to mediate on the joy-filled message of Psalm 62:

Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth!  Sing out the honor of His name; Make His praise glorious. Say to God, “How awesome are Your works! Through the greatness of Your power Your enemies shall submit themselves to You.  All the earth shall worship You and sing praises to You; They shall sing praises to Your name.”

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. ~Romans 15:13

A Life of Mediocrity or Excellence?

rubber stamp in hand marked with excellenceHave you ever considered the difference between I should and I did?  The lives of some people are summarized with statements such as these:

  • I should’ve
  • I could’ve
  • I wish I would’ve

 Statements like these are characteristic of an unfulfilled life of dissatisfaction.

I did, however, speaks of commitment, dedication and resolve.  To live a life of fulfillment and satisfaction we need to be an I did-er like Paul who said:

“I served the Lord with humility and tears, patiently enduring the many trials that came my way through the plots of my Jewish opponents.  I did everything I could to help you; I held nothing back. I taught you publicly, and I taught you in your homes. I told everyone the same message—Jews and Greeks alike—that we must turn toward God and have faith in our Lord Jesus the Anointed (Acts 20:19-21).

As an I did-er, Paul could confidently say:  “I am already being poured out, and the last drops of this drink offering are all that remain; it’s almost time for me to leave.  I have fought the good fight, I have stayed on course and finished the race, and through it all, I have kept believing.  I look forward to what’s in store for me: a crown of righteousness that the Lord—the always right and just judge—will give me that day (but it is not only for me, but for all those who love and long for His appearing).” 

Paul lived a life of extraordinary accomplishment because he knew the difference between mediocrity and excellence is found in the enthusiastic pursuit of a life that glorifies God: “I do not consider myself to have ‘arrived’, spiritually, nor do I consider myself already perfect. But I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me. My brothers, I do not consider myself to have fully grasped it even now. But I do concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal—my reward the honor of being called by God in Christ (Philippians 3:12-14).”

You’ll never find happiness in the empty promises of the could’ve-would’ve-should’ve life, but you will find true joy when you resolve to be an I did-er.

The Misery Index

close up of a heart shape with bandage on white background

Whether you call them “parting comments” or “footnotes,” Paul makes some interesting statements as he concludes his letter to the Thessalonians.  The first of these statements is, “Be at peace among yourselves (5:13).”  Paul is urging the members of this church to be at peace with fellow members of the church.

If you’re not at peace with yourself, it’s difficult to be at peace with another person; and if you’re not at peace with God, it is difficult to be at peace with yourself.

Paul also urges these people to “rejoice always (5:16).”   Joyfulness is an important component of life, and Paul linked it with love, peace, longsuffering, and kindness when he spoke of the fruit of the Spirit.

The greater your inner joy, the more likely you are to love people, to be kind, and to be longsuffering—Even Nehemiah knew that “the joy of the Lord is your strength (8:10).”

The third statement that Paul makes emphasizes the importance of prayer:  “Pray without ceasing (5:17).”  Obviously you can’t pray continually, but you can go through the day in an attitude of prayer.  There can be miniscule moments of time when you praise God or give Him thanks for a blessing.  There will be times when you find yourself thinking of some person or a specific need, and you can offer a voiceless prayer that only God hears.

There’s another item that Paul urges these people to do:  “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (5:18).”  To understand this verse, you need to comprehend the difference between “in all” and “for all.”  Paul didn’t say that you’re to give thanks for “all things,” but “in all things.

When you give thanks “in all things,” you’re embracing the hope you have in Jesus Christ; and, your focus is not so much on the here and now of your pain, but on the there and then of future blessings.

The path of trials and tragedies was a route that Paul often traveled. If you’re following in his footsteps, you might find some comfort in his practical theology for life:

Thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he is our Father and the source of all mercy and comfort. For he gives us comfort in our trials so that we in turn may be able to give the same sort of strong sympathy to others in theirs. Indeed, experience shows that the more we share Christ’s suffering the more we are able to give of his encouragement. This means that if we experience trouble we can pass on to you comfort and spiritual help; for if we ourselves have been comforted we know how to encourage you to endure patiently the same sort of troubles that we have ourselves endured. We are quite confident that if you have to suffer troubles as we have done, then, like us, you will find the comfort and encouragement of God.  ~2 Corinthians 1:3-5

The Man With The Better Idea

thomas-edisonI have always been amazed at the brilliant and inventive mind of Thomas Edison.   During his lifetime, Edison developed many devices including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and his discoveries were the prototype of the modern day power grid.

To offer some insight into the mind of Edison, I have selected five simple but intriguing quotes that are credited to this wonderful man:

  • The man who doesn’t make up his mind to cultivate the habit of thinking misses the greatest pleasure in life.
  • The world owes nothing to any man, but every man owes something to the world.
  • I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. I wish I had more years left.
  • Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
  • I believe that the science of chemistry alone almost proves the existence of an intelligent creator.

In 1914, Edison’s factory burned to the ground destroying his one-of-a-kind prototypes.  Edison’s response to the catastrophe revealed his character: “Thank goodness all our mistakes were burned up. Now we can start fresh again.”

This remarkable statement by Edison, reminds me of Paul’s assessment of his life.  Notice the value he places on what he lost and what he gained, and how he contrasts the earthly and the eternal:  “But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ.  More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith (Philippians 3:7-9).”

What do you value most, the earthly or the eternal?  Paul said: ” For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

Simply and Complexly Marvelous

Beauty-of-NatureIf you want to spice up a conversation, bring either religion or politics into the discussion.  There are many diverse opinions on both subjects, and the topic of creation can stir the pot among both the believers and skeptics.

Some people believe in a random Big Bang form of creation, others espouse a view known as intelligent design, and then there are those who embrace the Genesis account of creation.

I find it hard to look at the intricate design of the world and believe it just happened by chance.  In Psalm 9, David writes:  “I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works.  I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.

When was the last time you paused and reflected on the “marvelous works” of God?  What would a flower be without its fragrance?  How dark would the night skies be without the light of the moon and stars?  How different would birds be if they were drab in color and whistled and sang out of tune?

The sunrise, the sunset, and the rainbow are the canvas on which the Master Artist paints in vivid colors, and the day would be much different if it began and ended in a colorless brown instead of  fire-red hues.  Speaking of fire, what would fire be without its warmth on a cold night or water without its refreshing coolness?

How about food?  What would chili be like if there was no spice or a breakfast roll without cinnamon?  And, it’s almost too painful to consider a world without ice cream!

How mundane would life be without this complicated, yet marvelous thing we call love?  Isn’t love the WOW factor in everything that God created?

When you read the book of Genesis, you see God at work.  After He had spoken the physical world into existence, God formed Adam out of the dust of the earth and breathed into him the breath of life.  Next in line was the creation of the animal kingdom, but God wasn’t finished until He created woman.

Adam thought he had seen it all, but then he saw Eve.  To Adam she saw the marvelous WOW-inducing work of God

Take sometime this week, to marvel at the works of God, and the way He has blessed you.

The Sinister and the Saint

eyeI’m not sure if I should label it progression or regression, but I have gone from wearing no glasses, to bi-focals, and for several years now I have moved into the tri-focal stage.

Each step in this vision process involved a trip to the eye doctor and a prescription for new glasses.  The last time I got a new prescription for eyeglasses, I noticed the abbreviations OS and OD. The OS is for the left eye, and it is a Latin abbreviation that means “oculus sinister.”   The right eye is OD and is the Latin “oculus dextrus.”

The fact that I have a sinister left eye, made me curious, and I looked at the etymology of oculus sinister and dextrus:

  • The Latin meaning of sinister speaks of that which is “contrary, false; unfavorable; to the left.”
  • Dextrus has the meaning of being “right or ready.”

In these two words, we see the struggle that each of us face.  It is the conflict between evil and good or flesh and spirit.  In Romans 8:5, Paul said:  “For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit.”

Since your “outlook” is determined by the flesh or the spirit, you may want to take an “in-look” at what the Bible says about desire:

  • James 1:14-15: Everyone is tempted by his own desires as they lure him away and trap him.  Then desire becomes pregnant and gives birth to sin. When sin grows up, it gives birth to death.
  • Proverbs 27:20: Hell and Destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.
  • 2 Peter 2:14: Having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, they entice unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices.

Which one of your eyes guides you?  Do you see the world through the sinister side or the saintly side?   I encourage you to take a look at your life, and consider using the words of Psalm 119:36-38 as your prayer for today:

“Turn my heart toward Your Law, so I will not earn money in a wrong way.  Turn my eyes away from things that have no worth, and give me new life because of Your ways.  Keep Your promise to Your servant, the promise You made to those who fear and worship You.”

The Happiness Secret

61rSjSmiZ1LEven though I’ve never watched a full episode of Duck Dynasty, I do know the motto of the main character on the show.  Phil Robertson often says:  “Happy!  Happy! Happy!”

Have you ever given any thought to the source of happiness?  The ancient philosopher, Aristotle tried to answer this question.  He believed the most important factor in an effort to achieve happiness is to have a good moral character:  “He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life (Nicomachean Ethics).”

Happiness is not an on-going quest for instant gratification.  It is, however, the product of a disciplined life that has been focused on the practice of the virtues.

To be content, your life needs to be filled with the right content.  A good example of this is seen in a contrast of Abraham and Lot.  After a family feud, Abraham allowed Lot to claim the well-watered and fertile plains of Jordan as his territory. Lot turns his herds and servants in that direction, and after a brief period of time, he has “pitched his tent toward Sodom.”  Genesis 13 describes this city and its inhabitants as exceedingly wicked.

The difference between these Lot and Abraham is seen in the word content.  Lot’s tent (life) was full of conniving desires that led him away from the virtues of God; however, the story of Abraham was much different:  His tent (life) was content as he delighted in the goodness of God.

Ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • How happy am I?
  • Does the content of my life help or hinder lasting contentment?

As you think about these questions, read this excerpt from Psalm 1:  Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.

Is happiness an accident, or is it the result of a life well-lived?