The pinnacle pursuit of our culture is to be happy. The meaning of life is frequently described as achieving a state of happiness and oftentimes the parental role has been reduced to a means of simply guiding our children into happiness. The pursuit of happiness is even written into the fabric of American government as an inalienable right to be protected. We’re a people who want to be happy.
But what does it mean to be happy? And what happens when life’s circumstances are anything but happy? When my son Jud died, I found my soul bristling at the idea of happiness; it seemed to lack substance, negate the weightiness of life’s challenges, and diminish the dynamic nature of our emotions into an ethereal state of consciousness.
So when I was reading the news last night, I was immediately intrigued by an article indicating how “Researchers Have Cracked the Code to Being Happy.” The Mayo Clinic, one of the world’s most renowned health organizations likely spent millions and millions of dollars, over several decades, to study the concept of happiness. Yet I found it fascinating that their “cracked code” is basically a reiteration of Biblical principles, outlined by our Creator thousands of years ago, as a guide for authentic joy and contentment.
A prominent psychologist, John Tamerin, is quoted in the article as saying that the root of happiness that people are chasing—a better job, more money or true love—is an endless pursuit that often backfires. “If you lead your life always waiting for a great thing to happen, you probably will be unhappy,” Tamerin asserted. Genuine happiness cannot be dependent on circumstances.
So what is the cracked code to being happy?
Think on These Things
First, Mayo Clinic experts assert that “If we learn to command our thoughts, shifting perspective away from the negative, and embrace the positive, we will be happier.”
Interestingly, God encourages us to do just that; He urges us to focus our thoughts on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable.” He invites us into a peace that transcends our circumstances by calling us to think about that which is excellent or praiseworthy (Phil 4:8).
Second, the Mayo Clinic research indicates that “the degree of happiness people enjoy has to do with how resilient they are to life’s many curve balls.” Once again, the article acknowledges that happiness cannot be reliant on our external situation but is a matter of how we deal with challenges.
The Bible describes this kind of resiliency; “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinth. 4:8-9) This resiliency arises out of God’s work in us and the understanding that He has a purpose and a plan, no matter what we face.
The Interests of Others
Third, the article claims that “one of the biggest hindrances to being happy is too much thinking about one’s self.”
Surprise, surprise! God told us that from the get-go: “In humility value others above yourselves; do not look to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil 2:3-4) Focusing on the needs of others rather than our own, can, indeed, bring deep joy. In fact, the Bible states that our joy can be made complete by keeping God’s command to love others just as He has loved us (John 15:11-12).
The article concludes by stating that “complainers are never going to be happy.” Gratitude is key. One of the best ways we can reshape our perspective is by seeking ways to be grateful, whatever we face. Maybe this is why God encourages us to be thankful in all circumstances (Thes. 5:18).
The life of faith, to which God calls us, is the genuinely happy life. He created us. He loves us. He knows what is best for us. The keys to lasting happiness, true joy and contentment, were written 2000 years ago…researchers didn’t need to spend millions of dollars and decades of time because the code didn’t need to be cracked.