Today’s blog post is by guest writer, Kim Shippey: I recently asked my 11-year-old grandson how he defines happiness. His grin was as wide as the treat he visualized: “A double-chocolate donut, a plain croissant, and a hot chocolate with one ice-cube.”
I think I know what researcher and author Sonja Lyubomirsky would have said if she’d overheard that conversation:
“Happiness is a lot more than pleasure and feeling good,” she’d insist. “It’s about engagement and meaning and progressing towards your goals” (AARP Bulletin, June, 2016).
In that interview on the secrets to happiness Lyubomirsky explained that she’s found that happy people are healthier, more creative, and have better relationships. “They’re more generous and other-focused.”
Writer, sociologist, and lecturer Joan Chittister took that line of research further by writing a whole book under the title Happiness (Eerdmans, 2011).
Within its pages, she explains, she’s not concerned to offer one personal formula, but instead to look at some of the many dimensions of what the world calls happiness, so that readers can more easily find themselves among its pages and chart their own course.
She covers no fewer than 32 aspects of the happy life, including cultural expectations, personal health, choice, extroversion, human rights, submission, pleasure, relatedness, and more. She also devotes thirteen chapters to religions’ approach to happiness, including Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam.
I’ve chosen to live my life the Christian way, following as best I can the example of Christ Jesus, who in his Sermon on the Mount gave his disciples a code of ethics for their behavior and a standard of conduct for all who establish themselves in God’s kingdom.
Although the word blessed in what we usually call “the Beatitudes” includes the experience of hope and joy independent of outward circumstances, it’s interesting that the Living Bible Translation chooses the word happiness: “Happy are those who long to be just and good, for they shall be completely satisfied. Happy are the kind and merciful, for they shall be shown mercy. Happy are those whose hearts are pure, for they shall see God. Happy are those who strive for peace—they shall be called the sons of God” (Matthew 5: 6-9). And so on.
To those guidelines we might add some of Chittisters’s own observations on the subject:
• Happiness is a social responsibility.
• Happiness . . . is the process of having come to the point where we could give ourselves away to something greater than ourselves.
• To be truly happy, we must live a life of clear purpose and high virtue—translated as the development of our greatest human strength, rationality, and our highest moral values.
• Happiness is about being more contented with what we give than with what we have.
And those observations are very much in accord with what another deep Christian thinker, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote more than a hundred years ago: “Happiness is spiritual, born of Truth and Love. It is unselfish; therefore it cannot exist alone, but requires all mankind to share it” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 57).
For me, that far surpasses the allure of any double-chocolate donut!