What are the things that contribute to happiness?
Internationally acclaimed motivational speaker Denis Waitley insists, “Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned or worn. It is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.”
I have never met anyone with perfect circumstances, or anyone who constantly lives in a state of perpetual bliss and ecstasy. Life can be tough at times, and everyone I know has at least a few burdens to bear and obstacles to overcome.
So, what really makes a person happy? Is it reaching the pinnacle of a successful career? Is it finding the right soul mate? Is it being blessed with good health? Or could it involve achieving a certain status of wealth?
While these factors may contribute to happiness, my observation is that these do not guarantee happiness. In fact, chasing after ideal circumstances is like pursuing the proverbial, but nonexistent, pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
In my experience as a pastor, I have encountered people who are happy most of the time, and people who are most definitely unhappy much of the time.
I have friends who are extremely wealthy and friends who are moderately poor, and yet neither of these economic circumstances seems to be the determining factor in whether a person is happy.
Recently, as my wife and I were discussing some of our friends and their degree of happiness or lack thereof, I began to think about the common factors that we have observed in our friends who are generally happy.
I have noted five common traits among our friends who live with a high degree of happiness:
- Happy people treasure relationships. They consider the people in their lives, including their friends, family and colleagues, to be blessings rather than burdens. In an article posted by the Stanford School of Medicine, Thomas Oppong proposes that “good social relationships are the most consistent predictor of a happy life.”
- Happy people are cheerfully generous people. And science supports that observation. A study by the University of Zurich in 2017 concluded, “Generosity makes people happier, even if they are only a little generous. People who act solely out of self-interest are less happy. The study noted that merely promising to be more generous is enough to trigger a change in our brains that makes us happier.”
- Happy people had rather serve than be served. They enjoy offering hospitality, participating in volunteer projects and/or engaging in missional service. There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”
- Happy people are resilient. You cannot keep them down. They tend to deal with adversity without being overwhelmed by it. They are resolved to bounce back quickly from disappointment. They perceive obstacles to be a bump in the road, not the end of the road. They have the determination and durability to outpace discouragement and despair.
- Happy people are rooted and grounded in their faith. The happiest people I know have a simple, unassuming and meaningful faith in God. Maybe that is why Psalm 144:15 declares, “Happy are the people whose God is the Lord.” Happy people have a spiritual life that thrives on a daily walk rather than a Sunday-only religion. They are comfortable in their own skin, and they seem to have the same disposition and attitude day in and day out.
While there is no “guaranteed or your money back” formula for achieving happiness, a happy approach to life seems to be connected to one’s attitude more than one’s circumstances. Happiness seems to correlate to one’s faith and mission in life.
Pretense is exhausting. And in church, pretentiousness is downright repelling to those who are searching for an authentic spiritual path.
I am convinced that we are more likely to find happiness by following Jesus and practicing his teachings than by any other path in life. And that kind of happiness tends to be contagious.
Popular comedian Groucho Marx resolved, “I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”
I once heard a minister say in a sermon, “God is more interested in your holiness than your happiness.”
What if happiness and holiness are not mutually exclusive? Perhaps they play for the same team.
Pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also serves as a leadership coach and columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches. He and his wife, Amanda, live in Brookhaven, Georgia.