What makes you happy? Christmas trees, hot chocolate, golf, taking a nap, taking a drink, shopping, making money, spending time with family and friends? Many of us find ourselves in an ever-increasing pressure cooker kind of search for happiness. Particularly during this season of the year, it’s supposed to just ooze from us naturally, right?
Well, maybe not. But there are some things we can do in our lives that can increase the happiness quotient within us. And I think these things, in general, increase our quality of life and helps separate what is contentment and what is simply temporarily pleasing to us. God longs for joy and peace in our lives. God does not promise 24 hour happiness.
But first, I need to come clean with you. I will read articles or listen to podcasts and take notes and then tuck away for a sermon or a blog. I found one of those pages of notes but there is no notation on what I was reading or listening to. So I’m sorry. I don’t know where I got some of this information. I think it was an interview with a happiness researcher on NPR. But I think it is still worth sharing for our reflection as we count down the days to Christmas.
- Gratitude- First up is living a life of gratitude increases the happiness quotient. Studies have found that people who literally counted their blessing every Sunday night were happier than those who were not so intentional with practicing gratitude.
- Doing Acts of Kindness- Studies also show that doing acts of kindness for other people is the most effective way to increase your happiness quotient. If that is true than that also explains why people really do appear to be happier during Christmas if they have not experienced a serious loss. We tend to do more generous acts for others during December and that makes us feel better.
- Nurturing spiritual emotions – Emotions like gratitude, compassion, love and altruism are spiritual emotions that when present in our lives lead naturally to growth, living a life paying attention to things larger than ourselves. This stimulates the frontal cortex of our brain where happiness is felt. Worship is indeed good for your long term happiness!
- Physical Activity – Increasing the release of Dopamine inside our brains makes us happy and physical activity most easily leads to the release of that brain chemical.
- Responding well to Adversity – This always leads to greater happiness. When we are devastated it hurts for a short period of time then we usually successfully overcome great stress because God created people to be resilient. When we are happy, it is fleeting at best. It lasts for just a while. So when we are able to overcome adversity, we are able to have sustained contentment.
One caution to try to avoid that is our consummate human trap – the “hedonistic treadmill”. This antidote to happiness is when we find ourselves wanting more and more and more. It’s not possible to sustain and eventually that treadmill gets to going faster and faster and we can’t keep up. An interesting finding a study discovered is that the difference between people’s happiness quotient is pretty big for people who earn a $5000 salary compared to those who earn $50,000. That makes sense because it’s very hard to cover our basic needs with only $5000 a year. But the happiness quotient difference between people who earn $50,000 and $500,000 is negligible at best. How interesting. We think money is the key to happiness but it is not. People who have enough but not much figure out how to be happy with what they have. People who have much often want more.
One final thought to leave you with again during this season of supposed abundant happiness. There are a list of things that studies have found consistently bring people happiness. They are play, new experiences, friends and family, doing meaningful things, and knowing how to appreciate what we have. The interesting common denominator in all of those things is that they are free. Maybe these are the kind of gifts we need to try and share with one another as we figure out Christmas gifts to give those we love.
My prayer for you this Christmas season is deep and meaningful happiness. If reflecting on the findings of this new area of research into our happiness leads to choosing happiness inducing behaviors than wonderful for you. Life can work against our happiness quotient and even our own choices can adversely affect our happiness. May you find ways to nurture the compassion and well-being within you so that your happiness quotient flourishes. Personally, I highly recommend making sure regular worship is on your list, but then again, I’m a little partial when it comes to that area.