10 Steps to Happiness"While the pursuit of happiness is open to interpretation and manifold expressions, we can find in Scripture clues to how God points the way to the abundant life..."
Happiness is, by nature, a subjective quality with a definition like a moving target. There is scant evidence—qualitative or quantitative—to lend convincing support to those life variables most critical in determining individual happiness, which is likely why past researchers committed to the scientific method rarely tried to tackle the subject.
This is changing. Take, for example, the World Database of Happiness in Rotterdam, self-described as a, “continuous register of scientific research on subjective appreciation of life.” New studies, documentaries and research projects on the subject proliferate. We can glean a few trends in the growing body of research on what promotes happiness. While the pursuit of happiness is open to interpretation and manifold expressions, we can find in Scripture clues to how God points the way to the abundant life made possible through the light of the world, Jesus Christ.
10. Having a short memory
Are you one to hold grudges? Do you need the jaws of life to pry forgiveness out of you? Well, don’t expect these attributes to contribute to your happiness or to your overall health for that matter. This ability to forgive and forget, to go with the flow, is frequently cited by researchers of centenarians as being a key factor in their ability to live to see their 100th birthday.
Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to you.O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.Psalm 86:4-5
Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.Ephesians 4:32
9. Exacting fairness
According to a recently published study in the prestigious journal, “Nature,” people derive more happiness from scenarios and situations that result in a perceived fairness for everyone involved, even when this fairness goes against self-interest or comes at some personal cost. In short, researchers at Rutgers found that the reward centers in the brain light up in situations in which people are treated equally.
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.Romans 3:23-24
8. Having lots of friendships
Extroverts are happier than introverts and they live longer lives, in part because they can spend time in the company of friends and family or they can spend time alone, according to happiness researcher Ed Diener. Like letting go of grudges and going with the flow, being extroverted and having a wide social circle is a major factor in whether someone considers themselves happy or not, as well as an often-cited reason to explain how some people live to be 100 or older.
“I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”Matthew 18:19
For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.Ephesians 2:14
7. Being spiritual
The results of a collaborative, multinational study that involved over 166,000 people showed a clear correlation between a person’s “strength of religious affiliation and frequency of attendance at worship services” and their self-reported levels of happiness and satisfaction with their lives. How is this correlation explained? Researchers postulate that this increased involvement in a spiritual circle means more friends, a wider support network and a higher degree of hopefulness.
O God, you are my God;Psalm 63:1-3
I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
where there is no water.
2 I have seen you in your sanctuary
and gazed upon your power and glory.
3 Your unfailing love is better than life itself;
how I praise you!
6. Thinking ahead
In his book “Stumbling on Happiness,” Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert argues that happiness is derived from the ability to accurately project what will in the future make us happy — not those things that actually do. He notes that we are the only species that truly considers the future, and this ability to think ahead and to imagine the future is “the defining aspect of our humanity.”
According to Gilbert, studies support the idea that we enjoy thinking into the future because more often than not, it’s something of a daydream, and in daydreams we are at our most successful.
Furthermore, because imagining the future and what actually happens in that future are often at odds, many people derive far more happiness from the anticipation of a future event than the actual event.
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.’
“’No, we don’t know, Lord,’ Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?’
“Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.’”John 14:1-6
5. Developing a skill
According to psychology professor Dr. Timothy A. Pychyl, the route to happiness is simple enough, “Live it, don’t buy it.” This is especially relevant in the modern world, where instant gratification can be purchased — but only to a point, before it hits a wall.
He quotes a professional base jumper, who says, “You’ve got to have the passion to do your time. If you haven’t done the time, you just can’t get there.” He goes on to argue that only by paying one’s dues through time, effort, devotion, and experience can we, “develop the rich experiences that make life meaningful.”
Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.Galatians 6:7-10
4. Having personal control over one’s life
Where might you find unhappy people with low morale? Those places where people no longer feel in personal control of their lives, whether it’s a nursing home or a prison, because control equates to happiness. In his book “Satisfaction,” Emory University psychiatrist Gregory Berns makes the point by distinguishing between pleasure and satisfaction. “While you might find pleasure by happenstance, satisfaction can arise only by the conscious decision to do something. And this makes all the difference in the world, because it is only your own actions for which you may take responsibility and credit.”
Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me.Psalm 25:4-5
I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.Philippians 3:12
3. Defining success
There’s a saying that no matter how talented or successful you think you are, there’s always someone who’s got a leg up on you. People who compare themselves against those people will always come out the loser, even when the comparison is neither appropriate nor consequential. A skilled dentist with a thriving practice can’t reasonably compare his level of success to Robert DeNiro and expect to feel good. If he made comparisons within his own peer group or against his own expectations, however, he’ll not only come out more favorably, but he’ll be happier too.
As Gallup psychologist Shane Lopez explained to Psychology Today writer Abby Ellin,
“Self-referential people see themselves as the marker. They care about their own performance, not how they measure up compared to that guy over there…. The only competitor is the self.”
Jesus said, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me…when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!”Matthew 25:34-36
2. Good genes
According to “The Science of Lasting Happiness,” an article by Marina Krakovsky published by Scientific American in 2007, “studies of twins and adoptees have shown that about 50% of each person’s happiness is determined from birth”, what’s loosely termed as a “genetic set point.” Researchers Julia Boehm and Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California found that a full 50% of our happiness set-point is due to genetics, while 10% is affected primarily by circumstances like where we were born and to whom. This leaves 40% that is subject to our influence.
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?’
“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!”John 9:1-3,6-7
1. Liking yourself
Liking oneself is arguably the principal characteristic of happy people. It’s been revealed in study after study after study: happy people like themselves. They think they’re pretty great people. They have high self-esteem, meaning they think highly of their own intelligence, they consider themselves to have strong ethical standards and to have far fewer prejudices than others.
“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us… We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.”I John 4:10,14
“Jesus replied, ‘The most important commandment is this: Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.”Mark 12-39-40
The 10 characteristics of Happiness were provided by Sazzad Khan who, when the article was received, was a student in Bangladesh. The biblical points/counterpoints were added to show how basic human concerns intersect with truths embodied in the saving work of God through His Son Jesus Christ.
This article was published in the June 2021 issue of The War Cry.