The article soon lost me in its scientific and medical explanations about happiness as a genetic trait and complex chemical functions of the brain. I couldn’t make sense of the terms and I don’t fully understand or trust all the genetic arguments about our inheriting happiness genes from our ancestors who set out to conquer the New World.
But, I think I know what happiness is. I know when I am happy. And I know when I am not. I am not always sure why I feel happy or why I don’t.
I clearly know when my wife is happy. We have a saying around our house, that “when momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” I am not sure where we found that nugget of truth, but we immediately recognized its relevance. When my wife is happy, I tend to be happy. Maybe it works the other way. We clearly affect each other. Sometimes I can bring her down. Sometimes she can bring me up. But the happiness of one clearly affects the happiness of the other. Fortunately I married someone who is almost always happy.
The article did have some interesting stats, like most news magazine articles do. In spite of our Declaration of Independence, and more than two centuries of pursuing happiness, Americans are apparently not all that happy compared to the rest of the world. Here are some interesting global observations:
“When it comes to work-life balance and life satisfaction, Canadians score significantly higher than Americans while making considerably less.” “Panama reports the highest levels of happiness, although almost a third of the population lives below the poverty line.” “China’s economic boom in recent decades has corresponded with a decline in its citizen’s life-satisfaction rate.” “Debt-laden Ireland faces a gloomy future, yet its population is among the cheeriest on the planet, reporting high levels of well-being and contentedness.” (Time magazine, July 15, 2013)
The Bible doesn’t speak much about happiness. It speaks much more about joy and contentment, which are closely related. I expect they go together to some degree, but joy and contentment are deeper and more lasting than happiness.
Jesus gave us hints about happiness that seem contradictory on the surface. When he gave us the Beatitudes, he used a word that is best translated “happy” “Happy are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Happy are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Happy are those who …”
Perhaps Jesus’ Beatitudes help us more than all the scientific, medical and genetic research. Happiness is more than the euphoria of victory and success. These fade quickly. Real happiness is deeper and more lasting than we may have ever imagined. It is available to all of us who mourn and are poor in spirit. We don’t have to be dominating conquerors to achieve happiness. It is available to the meek, to the peace makers and to those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.