"Happy are the people whose God is the Lord" Psalm 144:15.
Simple, right? Follow God and you will be a happier human. Well, if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you know it’s not that easy…in the short term. Let’s take a look, then, at what happiness means.
A THEORY OF HAPPINESS
Above all else, Aristotle claimed that happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence. His is a fascinating take on meaning that can easily be misconstrued in Christian circles – tossed out with the bath water as pure hedonism, but let’s take a closer look.
When translated from the original Greek eudaimonia, the happiness to which Aristotle is referring is the end goal of the totality of a person’s life. Therefore, it is not the pursuit of momentary pleasure, not a situational state of mind. Instead, Aristotelian happiness is a measure of how well a person has lived up to her human potential as determined at the end of her life.
So, under this theory we can not really make pronouncements that a person has lived a happy life or been happy – or lived up to her potential – until her life is over (much like we can not pronounce cake batter “cake” before it has completed baking.) However, there are some things we can do to live a life with more contentment, joy and peace. There are ways to experience a long-lasting sense of hope and meaning in life and as we strive to live up to our potential – to live a life of happiness. I think in Christendom we call this living as our most authentic lives as the person God created us to be. Aristotle would call this living a life of complete virtue.
HAPPINESS IN MIDLIFE
This state of happiness, I believe, is one of the aims of the life-changing transitions that we undergo in midlife – to bring our hearts, minds, bodies and relationships into alignment with God’s design for us. Aristotle called it, simply, “doing the right thing.” By remaining ever-cognizant of the goal (virtue, happiness, aligning with God’s design) and choosing to do the right thing, we create a life of happiness. And what better time to really learn how to be happy than now?
It sounds like a pretty easy formula, right? Yes? Then why is it so hard to achieve?
Well, my theory (taken from a combination of ideas from Dallas Willard and Fr. Thomas de Mello) is that our life’s story has caused us to believe certain lies about ourselves, our place in the world and our God. Sadly, our untamed thoughts naturally serve to confirm these untruths – keeping us in a cycle of missing the mark.
"A clumsy archer may indeed get better with practice, so long as he keeps aiming for the target." ~Aristotle
The lies of our past often keep us aiming for the wrong target. But midlife is, or can be if you are open, a time of great heart transformation leading to long-term happiness by pointing us in the direction of truth.
HOW TO BE A HAPPIER HUMAN
This is just a fancy term for believing you have some choice and a modicum of control over the direction of your life…and exercising it.
10. FOCUS ON OTHERS
Yes, happiness grows not out of focusing on what makes me ‘feel good,’ but out of knowing that I have made another feel good. I’m not necessarily referring to serving others, here, but simply focusing on them. Often just seeing another and calling them by name is enough to make them smile. My dad always made a concerted effort to call people by name whether it be a friend, coworker, flight attendant or restaurant server. If he knew their name, he used it and they knew they were seen. As a kid it embarrassed me, but as an adult I get it and love that he took the time to speak to the hearts of everyone he met. We live in a culture filled with lonely people. When you choose to let them know that you see them and that you value them, you bring happiness into their lives and make your own happiness increase. It doesn’t take any energy all and makes a big difference.
Aristotle said that happiness is the only pursuit that is an end unto itself – everything else we do in pursuit of happiness. Making right choices is simply the exercising of virtue in pursuit of happiness. Many of the tips, above, compliment one or more of his core happiness virtues: justice, courage, generosity, friendship, citizenship and intellectual contemplation. While these are not specific tenants covered biblically, they are not unbilbilical and if we remember that the our target happiness is, truly, a chasing after God’s heart for us, it all makes sense, right?
Ultimately, sure, it sounds like a lot of work and, on the surface, I guess it is. However, would you rather live a ‘life of quiet desperation’ or a life with purpose, hope and meaning? I am never more content with my day than when I am choosing to do the right thing, walking in God’s will and knowing that I am serving a greater purpose with my life. These are the things that will bring about a life of happiness.
Choose one or two to focus on today and in the days to come. Then, add another and another. You are responsible for creating the life you long to live and the life God has created for you – go out and do it.