Clap along if you feel like Happiness is the truth . . .”—you know you want to! This feel-good song by Pharrell Williams is part of a global movement focusing on happiness. From conferences to songs, to the endless pursuit of pleasure, people are seeking happiness any way they can. The most popular courses at Harvard and many other universities are on Positive Psychology (aka happiness). In 2008, there were more than 4000 books published on happiness compared to the miserly 50 books published in 2000. Clearly people are fascinated—and dare I say—obsessed with all things happy.
Let’s define happiness as that feeling you get where you feel light, carefree, pleased, contented and joyful about something. It is about being satisfied with your life, and feeling that you are on track with your life purpose. The pursuit of happiness would then be doing those things that produce more and more of those feelings. We experience more happiness when we feel useful, when our talents are being used for good purposes, and when we are in meaningful relationships with others that meet their and our needs.
Of course there are things you can do that will enhance your happiness such as:
1. Having an Attitude of Gratitude
Regularly expressing gratitude in your life, being grateful for the things you have or appreciate in life, is a neat way to shift your focus to positive things and increases your thankfulness, releasing powerful endorphins in your brain. One really neat way to do this is every morning as you wake to spend the first few minutes of your day expressing all the things you are grateful for: warm bed, fresh air, skin, hair, music, house, friends, family, bible, shower, toilet paper, cars, trees, sunshine, a brand new day and so much more. You can even build gratitude into your prayer life and express your thanks to God. Gratitudes, like prayers, are best expressed out loud because more of your mind is used in the process and this makes the experience even more powerful for you. Another cool way is
to start a book of “Gratitudes” where you add more and more to your list every day.
2. Practicing Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the ability to take a third-person perspective on yourself in your ordinary everyday life and catch yourself when you are drifting into complaining, whining, negative self talk, gossip or any other activity that would cause harm to others or yourself. It is a great way to minimise the impact of negative states of mind and bad habits and bring them under control. It is a habit of mind you cultivate that enables you to spy on your actions and thoughts and then to choose a more helpful response in those moments where that would be helpful. You can notice yourself being hassled or upset, and say to yourself, “Oh, I am doing that thing again” and notice how this changes how you feel about it (less intense, more free, and more in control) so that you can then choose a different, more helpful response. Add to this the possibility in those moments where you can literally ask Jesus: “What would you want me to do?” Then checking out the source and trusting the response take the action your are prompted to take. Bear in mind this will never be in violation of clear biblical principles nor will it be at the expense or abuse of others or ourselves, because God always loves, hopes, protects, builds up, long suffers, and so on (Read 1 Corinthians 13 for more details).
We were made to be happy, to experience pleasure and all the wonderful emotions that go with it. By far the greatest pathway to happiness that will also lead you to the highest quality of life is to be found in contributing to the good of others. Just like we were made to be happy, we were also made to bring happiness and joy to others: to serve them with love and kindness, to shower appreciation on them, to do acts of service (yes even random acts of service) just because we can.
When we think of unhappiness, we tend to think in terms of pain, loneliness, heartbreak, being bullied or harassed, being used or abused, too much stress, burnout, or feeling overwhelmed. By way of contrast, happiness and by extension the quality of your life, is about connection with others, engaging in rich relationships, building fun friendships and doing meaningful things together. Happiness is about sharing wonderful experiences with your friends, it is about worshipping together, sharing the good times and coming through the bad times, it is about connection with others outside of yourself and serving them with a big heart.
We live in a world that is obsessed with self to the exclusion of others (selfie anyone?) — but this is the pathway to unhappiness in the end. Because if I live with it all being about me, then I am missing out on the really cool way to experience happiness that will last through serving and loving others.
Jesus’ recipe for life is remarkably simple, “Do to others what you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12).” Notice how this is phrased in the positive and implies an active part on you and me in the doing and keeping of this verse. Doing nothing is not an option. Rather, to fulfil this verse we need to be active in doing things to others along the lines of what we would have them do for us. Bear in mind that I don’t think Jesus would have been thinking about self harm when he said this, so negative actions toward others are not even on the board. This is Jesus’ recipe for getting along and building your life and being happy. Serve others in the way you want to be served. Be proactive in serving them with the kind of things you would like to receive—kindness, love, affirmation, protection, justice, care, hope, food, shelter, clothing, comfort, water, and so on, without measure, without thinking what’s in it for me. When we do this, we will experience the blessings, the happiness that Jesus intended for us to experience.
The world is rightly looking at what brings happiness. Pharrell’s song, while catchy and cool and filled with possibilities, only goes so far and misses a great opportunity to share what really brings happiness: serving others, contributing to their welfare and working toward meeting their needs. “Do this,” Jesus said, “and you will have life, and have it to the full!”
Think about it:
- List three things you would like others to do for you right now that would increase your happiness.
- Now go and do these three things for others and start a global happiness movement of serving others.
- What three things can you do in service that will make the world an even happier place? When will you start doing them?
Neil Thompson loves helping people step deeper into the great life God calls them to live. He lives in Lake Macquarie with his wife and two children.