Two things happened to Sandra Bullock this month. First, she won an Academy Award for best actress. Then came the news reports claiming that her husband is an adulterous jerk. So the philosophic question of the day is: Would you take that as a deal? Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow? (David Brooks, The Sandra Bullock Trade, New York Times, 03/29/10)

Let’s take David Brooks’ deal, and re-frame it for pastors: Would you accept a “successful” ministry at the cost of a happy marriage?

On the basis of extensive and rigorous research studies, Brooks argues:

Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.

Brooks also has a fascinating few paragraphs on the relationship between money and happiness. For example, did you know that:

People aren’t happiest during the years when they are winning the most promotions. Instead, people are happy in their 20’s, dip in middle age and then, on average, hit peak happiness just after retirement at age 65.

But he returns to the relationship between personal relationships and happiness, and concludes:

If the relationship between money and well-being is complicated, the correspondence between personal relationships and happiness is not. The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.


The overall impression from this research is that economic and professional success exists on the surface of life, and that they emerge out of interpersonal relationships, which are much deeper and more important.

Back to the deal: Would you accept a “successful” ministry at the cost of a happy marriage?

If someone was to look at your daily schedule, would they know your answer to that question?

Picture: 2006 © Fred Goldstein. Image from