According to studies cited in Timothy D Wilsons book ReDirect-Changing the stories we live by, there are three ingredients that contribute more than anything else to human happiness. I have commented on all three below and how all three are connected to a healthy life of faith.
Finding meaning. The better we understand and explain events that happen to us, especially the negative ones, the faster and fuller we recover from them. I think that this is one of the reasons that certain studies have shown that people of faith are usually happier, it is because they can find meaning or purpose in the midst of their experiences. This is powerful because the experience itself is not the end of an event, good will come from it. There’s redemption and justice to look forward to.
One of the most popular scriptures that Christians will turn to for this is Romans 8:28 which says,
For we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him, those who are called according to his purpose
As humans our core narratives are derived from culture, parents, traditions and our religion. It’s why for several weeks following 911 in America churches were full. People were once again drawing on their core narratives. “In God we Trust” perhaps…
Meaning helps us to feel special and underlines our core beliefs. Again the scriptures drip with this conclusion. In the Bible, we are called, chosen, loved, found and rescued. Although we don’t always know how to articulate or describe these things, a healthy reading of scripture should leave any person with no doubt that they are special in the eyes of God.
Here’s a surprising scripture that reveals that to us:
Suddenly a great company of angels appeared saying, “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth to men on whom his favour rest.” Luke 2:13-14
Yes, this is what the angels said to the shepherds announcing the birth of Jesus, but did you notice how it speaks of us? “Peace to men, on whom his FAVOUR rests.” God favours us! Now I have to say I didn’t always think that’s what God thought of me , of us, but years of reading the scriptures have utterly convinced me. Meaning forged from events and circumstances and derived from the knowledge of God’s view contributes hugely to human well being and happiness, so it seems.
2. HOPE HAS REAL POWER:
Knowing that we have some control over things, knowing that we can change has proven to be a huge motivator and contributes greatly to our happiness. As Humans we have this incredible ability to decide today to make tomorrow different and we know that we can do it. Unlike other mammals who are just going to act instinctively, we can act intentionally. For example, a baboon is just going to baboon all day long, a beaver will not have woken this morning and declared, “No more dams, I’m done with dams, from now on I’m building bridges.” No, the beaver will once again build its dams.
This vision, this hope is proven to have real power. People who tap into this have shown themselves to be healthier, less depressed and more optimistic. Now don’t be confused about optimism, it isn’t just thinking good thoughts as opposed to negative ones. Optimism is behaving in an optimistic way. behaving in a way that says, “There is hope.” “Things can get better.” etc.. Optimists confront problems, they don’t shy away from them, they plan better and persist longer because they believe obstacles can be overcome. They have an adaptive, healthy way of coping.
Once again the scriptures are full of these themes of hope and faith. The Christian life is defined, of course, as a life of faith. Think of Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen
A life of faith, rather than leaving one frustrated, contributes to the state of happiness.
Also the sense of control that we mentioned earlier is something the scriptures teach us has been gifted to us by God. In Genesis 1:26 God says,
Let us make man in our image and let them rule…
That word rule here doesn’t mean to dictate and command but to steward, care, lovingly control, tend. I love the way that Andy Crouch in his book Culture Making says it,
Humans are meant to make something of this world
When we accept that gift of control, that sense of we can do something about things, we tend to grow happier.
We all know that at some point in life we ask the question why? Why am I here, is there a purpose? Nothing answers this question better than the Bible’s story. In the Bible’s story despite the fact that God is so great, good, does brilliant things, comes in the person of Jesus and does for us what we cannot do for ourselves he (God) does not set himself up as the hero.
We are the hero. It is all done for us. When we read the first few chapters Genesis for example, God is not describing how he made the world but why he made the world. He made it for us. A place for us to thrive and flourish. A place for us to grow and develop. A place to discover. Anyone who has heard me preach in recent years as probably heard me say something like, “We were always meant to make clothes, Ferrari’s, Harley Davidsons, Hotels (because they are much better than tents) etc..” The point I have been making is this, God provided everything for us to thrive and our purpose was and is to make something great that would reflect his goodness.
Our reflecting his goodness was meant to involve our relationships with God, others, ourselves and our world. It was meant to pull on every bit of creativity, care and love that God had placed within is. And we were meant to do it in community. This is still our purpose today. It is seen so clearly in many parts of scripture but let me turn to the calling of Abraham in Genesis chapter 12 and verse 2.
I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.
Did you see that? “You will be a blessing.” At the heart of faith is this sense that God will bless me, yes, but the reason is so that I, along with others, can fulfil the purpose of blessing others and caring for this world.