While researchers have for years studied what makes people sad, only recently have they begun the scientific study of happiness. Already they claim to know what makes people happy. Their findings debunk the contemporary formula of wealth + possessions = success and happiness.

The happiest people, they say, spend more time with family and friends than they do alone. They care less about what other people think and evaluate themselves by their own standards. They stay so busy that they tend to forget about themselves, lose track of time and avoid worrying. “Keeping up with the Joneses” is probably the farthest thing from their minds.

In fact, says University of Illinois psychologist Ed Diener, “materialism is toxic for happiness.”

Gratitude and the ability to enjoy even small pleasures also contribute to happiness, as does the ability to forgive, the “happiness researchers” say. They also found evidence that unselfish and philanthropic acts make people happy. Two examples:

Over 20 years ago, actor Paul Newman started a corporation, Newman’s Own, specifically designed to give all after-tax profits to charity. So far the corporation has given more than $125 million. USA Weekend quoted Newman as saying he derives great joy from this, especially from the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, Conn., for children with cancer and other serious illnesses.

Millard Fuller was a millionaire before the age of 30, but apparently unfulfilled. After re-evaluating his values and life’s direction, he renewed his commitment to Christ. He and his wife, Linda, sold their possessions and gave the money to others who needed it. Joining with Clarence Jordan and others at Koinonia Farm, a Christian community near Americus, Ga., the Fullers began some partnership enterprises, including a housing ministry. In 1976 they founded Habitat for Humanity International.

Today, Millard and Linda Fuller continue to devote all of their energies to Habitat, and more than 625,000 people around the world have safe, decent, affordable housing because of the ministry.

We can find happy, generous people in just about every town and church. But most Christians seem to struggle with the issues of faith, wealth and materialism. Some of those are probably in your Sunday school class.

A recent study conducted by George Barna confirms this tension: “The majority of people who say they are Christian believe that hard work, competitive workplace tactics and aggressive financial strategies are fully compatible with their Christian faith. A smaller percentage of self-described Christians notes that education, financial earnings and vocational activity are best understood as tools that facilitate the expression of faith-driven rather than culturally determined values and principles. Another small but growing group of self-defined Christians contends that God’s plan is for people to claim affluence in God’s name and expect it as a reward for their faith in Him.

“Americans continue to struggle with the teachings of their faith and the desire to lead a comfortable, low-stress life, and with the question of whether these ideals are mutually compatible,” Barna says (see “Views On Quality of Life Are Most Influenced by Money and Faith, April 24, 2003, www.barna.org).

Most people in your Sunday school class probably know that money, affluence and material possessions cannot bring happiness. But they also probably believe that these things can make life somewhat less difficult and more enjoyable, and they likely struggle with enough versus too much and the wisdom to know the difference.

Wisdom, say The Proverbs, brings happiness. It also provides us with the ability to manage money and things in ways that please God.

Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.

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