On January 17, 2005, this title emblazoned the cover of Time Magazine: “The Science of Happiness.”
On December 5, 2008, the Associated Press released this article: “Smile! Study Says Happiness is Contagious.”
And the entire January/February 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review was dedicated to: “The Value of Happiness.”
For over a decade now, a large group of scientists and researchers have turned their attention to the study happiness.
Some of their findings are valuable to know:
- Happy people live longer. In one study, the happiest group lived nine years longer than the unhappiest group. When you consider that cigarette smoking can shorten one’s life three to six years, depending on how much a person smokes, it becomes clear the effect of happiness is huge.
- Once the basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter are taken care of, extra riches do not make people happier. Scientists think it’s because we adapt to pleasure, and it quickly wears off.
- Relationships are key. The wider and deeper the relationships, the happier we’re going to be.
As the researchers have studied happy people, they have discovered common characteristics. Happy people tend to:
A. Notice more of the positive details of their lives. These people have learned how to savor the small, joyful moments as well as the memorable euphoric ones.
B. Appreciate more. Grateful people even sleep better!
C. Think optimistically. Those who have a sense of purpose, who look forward with hopeful expectation to the future, are more satisfied with their lives.
D. Give generously of their time and resources. Researchers discovered that it was the giver who actually reaped more benefits than the receiver.
E. Empathize with others. They have learned to put themselves in the place of others, in order to understand their situations. They genuinely care about others and demonstrate compassion. Researchers found that compassion contributes to health and more productive living. The side effect? Happiness.
As I’ve perused these findings, I couldn’t help but smile. Everything secular research is “discovering” about happiness is already laid out in scripture!
Take the three findings mentioned above.
1. Happy people enjoy a longer life. God says, “With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation” (Psalm 91:16). Also, “Do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity” (Proverbs 3:1-2). In other words, long life and prosperity come to those who know God and obey his Word. In fact, as his children (those who have received Jesus into their lives), we have eternal life to look forward to!
2. Riches do not guarantee happiness. Solomon figured that out eons ago. “I denied myself nothing,” he said. “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done, and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11).
3. Relationships are key. The most important and valuable relationship we can have is with Jesus. When we accept him into our lives, he calls us friends (John 15:15). Jesus wants to give us life to the full (10:10) so that our joy may be complete (15:11). Relationships with other Christians can also be highly gratifying. The bonds of faith and friendship forge a deep familial connection (Proverbs 18:24b).
Scripture also verifies the five characteristics of happy people:
A. Attention — to the positive details of life. The psalmists were masters at drawing our attention to the beauty and grandeur of creation, God’s amazing ability to engineer circumstances, and His glorious attributes at work in our lives. We would be wise to do the same.
B. Gratitude. Paul instructed us, “Rejoice in the Lord always…In everything, by prayer…with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God…will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4-7). Is not peace of mind closely related to happiness? Surely we cannot have one without the other.
C. Optimism. The Christian’s optimism is not based on wishful thinking. We have a strong foundation for our hope: God himself. David affirmed that truth when he wrote, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him” (Psalm 62:5). And what is the result of that hope? “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God…the Lord, who remains faithful forever” (Psalm 146:5-6).
D. Generosity. The researchers almost echo word for word what Jesus taught: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
E. Empathy. Compassion is an extension of generosity. As we give attention, understanding, and care to others, we experience a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in our spirits. It is not only more blessed to give money or material goods, it is more blessed to give of ourselves.
One neuroscientist involved in the study of happiness said…
… happiness could best be described as a state of contentment.
And A.W. Pink, author of Comfort for Christians wrote…
“Contentment is the product of a heart resting in God.”
That, my friends, is the key to happiness: resting in God.
(Photo credits: newpathwaytohealing.com ; lifeingeneral.blogspot.com ; rncentral.com ; zazzle.com ; my.opera.com)