The cover of this month's National Geographic magazine reads, Searching for Happiness. I also came across a related article this week on CNN.com titled, The Happiest Cities in America. It's common, as we close in on the end of the year and, particularly, during Thanksgiving to begin searching for happiness. And if we're searching for it, that presumes we don't have it.
My first question when I saw the headline was to wonder how they measured "happiness". I discovered this researcher used three measures: life satisfaction, or how you evaluate your life as a whole; positive affect, or your day-to-day, moment-to-moment happiness; and purpose, or whether you feel your life has meaning. These metrics were simplified to produce three indicators: pride, pleasure, and purpose.
While I'm sure it wasn’t their intent, there are biblical principles embedded in the research. For example, it's good to look at your life as a whole and evaluate your sense of satisfaction, the Pride Factor in this research. How do determine your satisfaction with life? Scripture gives us keen insight into finding this sense of overall happiness. Psalm 119:35 shows us that it's connected to our relationship with God. Psalm 16:11 further clarifies that it's not about rule following but following the Ruler of all things. As we pursue Christ and follow the path of life he alone offers, we are filled with happiness and joy. This particular researcher asked people to rate their lives on a scale of 0 to 10 to measure life satisfaction, or pride. Take a moment this Thanksgiving weekend to pause and reflect how you would answer this question. Review these additional verses as you consider you response, Psalm 65:8, Psalm 126:3, John 15:11, and Romans 15:13.
For the measurement of positive affect, or the Pleasure Factor, people were asked how often they smiled, laughed, or felt joy during the previous 24 hours. Again, we can turn to the bible for insight into this metric. The key, as the Apostle Paul describes in Philippians 4:11-13, to having a positive affect is less about our reaction to temporary circumstances and more about our focus on the One who is eternal. Paul goes so far as to say there is a secret to being positive, and he has found it. It doesn't have anything to do with what we have or don't have. Or the situation in which we find ourselves. It has everything to do with trusting God with every thing and every circumstance. Stop now and think back over the past 24 hours. How many times did you smile, laugh, or feel joy? This will go a long way to determining if you've discovered the secret Paul found.
Finally, to measure life's meaning, or the Purpose Factor, the researcher asked people whether they "learned or did something interesting yesterday." I'm not quite sure how "doing something interesting" translates to finding meaning for your life, but Scripture is filled with instruction around your purpose. Here are three teachings about purpose.
- God has a unique purpose for all those who belong to him. - Exodus 9:16, Proverbs 20:5, Philippians 2:13, and Romans 8:28
- God's purposes are undeniable. - Job 42:2
- God's purposes are eternal. - Proverbs 19:21
As a follower of Christ, purpose is core to your new identity. You have been called and set apart for a particular purpose (Jeremiah 1:5). How has God uniquely gifted you and in what way's are your talents aligned with his purposes? Rather than asking yourself if you did something interesting yesterday, ask if you did something that made your heart come alive. Not did you learn something new, but did you experience God's presence.
Find Your Happiness Quotient
As you reflect on the things you are thankful for today, add this exercise to your Thanksgiving Day tradition. Consider the three measurements used in this research (Pride, Pleasure, Purpose) but view them through a gospel-centered lens. How aligned is your sense of life satisfaction, positive affect, and purpose with scripture? If you are searching for happiness and finding it elusive, begin reading the verses listed above daily to reorient yourself to where lasting happiness is found. God really is interested in your happiness, but it can only be found in him.
Phil Davis is the Executive Director for Abba's Way, a ministry he co-founded in 2009 to help provide deeper connections for fathers and their children. A speaker and writer on issues of small groups, fatherhood, single parenting, and men, Phil has spoken at men and pastors conferences throughout the United States and internationally. Follow Phil on Twitter @PhilBDavis.