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While flying back from Nashville last week, I picked up an airline magazine and found myself captured by an article entitled “The Pursuit of Happiness.”  The article opened up a whole new area of psychology to me called “positive psychology.” Positive psychology has been out there for over a decade now, long enough to even have detractors, but the success of a recent publication by Dan Buettner Thriving: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way has rekindled the conversation.

Buettner’s conclusions and those of several other well-known positive psychologists are backed with very large and well-documented studies that might be interesting to many of you, so here is the link for further details:  Celebrated Living/Spring 2012

But I want to jump to the conclusions of positive psychology as reported in this article:

  • “The most powerful determinant of happiness is the quality of your relationships with other people.”
  • Money does play a role in happiness, but only up to an annual income of $75,000 at which point no increase in happiness can be measured with further gain.
  • Individuals with altruistic as opposed to financial goals experience greater happiness.
  • Church attendance, participation in social events, and regular exercise increase happiness.
  • Choosing to spend money on others makes people happier than spending it on themselves.
  • Place and your surroundings matter! Beauty does affect people positively.
  • Performing meaningful work makes people happier.

As I was doing some superficial research on this psychological scene, I came across a TED video, recorded in 2004, by Dr. Martin Seligman, whom many designate as the founder of the positive psychology model.  (I can’t help but point out the irony that his Germanic surname means literally “blessed man” or “happy man”!) He claims to have classified the happy life into three distinctive types:

  • The Pleasurable Life – characterized by the accumulation of as many pleasurable experiences as possible
  • The Good Life—characterized by intense engagement with work, play, people, and love that “makes time stand still!”
  • The Meaningful Life—knowing one’s personal strengths and using them for something larger than oneself.

His conclusion is that the Pleasurable Life as a lifestyle brings very minimal satisfaction and is far surpassed by the other two. The Meaningful Life offered the greatest happiness. Interestingly, pleasurable experiences, however, could increase happiness when they were an add-on to both the Good and the Meaningful Life!

My favorite authors on happiness concluded all of this and more long before positive psychology appeared. It makes me happy just reading their writings again:

  • Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!
  • Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them!
  • Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!
  • Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully!
  • Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!
  • Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God!
  • Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children!
  • Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them! (All of the above from Matthew 5)
  • How happy are those who have no doubts about me! (Matthew 11:6)
  • How happy are those who hear the word of God and obey it! (Luke 11:28)
  • How happy are those servants whose master finds them awake and ready when he returns! . . . How happy they are if he finds them ready . . . (Luke 12:37-38).
  • Happy are those whose wrongs are forgiven, whose sins are pardoned!(Romans 4:7)
  • Happy are those who do not feel guilty when they do something they judge is right! (Romans 14:22)
  • Happy are those who remain faithful under trials, because when they succeed in passing such a test, they will receive as their reward the life which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)
  • Happy is the one who reads this book, and happy are those who listen to the words of this prophetic message and obey what is written in this book! (Revelation 1:3)
  • Happy are those who have been invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb. (Revelation 19:9)
  • Happy are those who wash their robes clean and so have the right to eat the fruit from the tree of life and to go through the gates into the city. (Revelation 22:14)

 

The words meaningful life and larger than yourself become so much more than just psychological jargon when put into this spiritual framework.

George Bailey may be “the biggest man in town,” and Lou Gehrig may be “the luckiest man alive,” but Christians have the potential and the promise of being the happiest of all people.

 

 

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