I’ve got a double surprise for you today. The first is the attitudes and activities that increase happiness. Yesterday we discussed how 50% of our happiness was set by our genes, only 10% was determined by our life circumstances, leaving 40% made up of our daily choices in thought, word, and deed.
But what are these thoughts, words, and deeds that generate so much of the difference between various people’s happiness levels?
When leading positive psychologist (happy scientist?), Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, collated the results of numerous happiness studies she found certain thinking and behavior patterns that commonly characterized the happiest participants:
- They devote a great amount of time to their family and friends, nurturing and enjoying those relationships.
- They are comfortable expressing gratitude for all they have.
- They are often the first to offer helping hands to coworkers and passersby.
- They practice optimism when imagining their futures.
- They savor life’s pleasures and try to live in the present moment.
- They make physical exercise a weekly and even daily habit.
- They are deeply committed to lifelong goals and ambitions (e.g., fighting fraud, building cabinets, or teaching their children their deeply held values).
- Last but not least, the happiest people do have their share of stresses, crises, and even tragedies. They may become just as distressed and emotional in such circumstances as you or I, but their secret weapon is the poise and strength they show in coping in the face of challenge. [The How of Happiness, 23]
It’s surprisingly straightforward isn’t it? Nothing especially spectacular or particularly extraordinary. My own initial response was “Is that it?” That’s it. But when leveraged by the 40% figure, these attitudes and actions can cause a significant increase in personal happiness.
Surprisingly of Similar
The second surprise is how similar they are to Christian values and ethics. Every one of them overlaps with a key Christian virtue. But this shouldn’t really surprise us, should it? God is simply allowing these scientists to discover facts and truths that He has packed into the moral universe. They are only finding out what God already knows, knowledge that He has already shared with humanity in His Word.
But there is still a significant difference between these values and Christian values. Good though they are in and of themselves, they are all on the horizontal plane; they lack a vertical dimension. They are man-centered, not God-centered.
Although we should expect humanity to flourish even when unknowingly following God’s moral order, when the God of these values is brought into the picture, the 40% receives a massive happiness boost. When our happy God becomes the director, the motivator, the enabler, and the rewarder of our daily thoughts, words, and deeds, happiness enters another dimension and should result not just in the odd happy day, but an ongoing increase in our baseline happiness.