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Christian Counseling - Happiness

What would you give if someone could explain what happiness is and how you could get it? Unfortunately, there is nothing that definitive, but a step in that direction comes from Richard Easterlin's writing*, which summarizes happiness research and posits some of his theories. If the above question and realistic answer caused you to be a little disappointed or unhappy, then this blog is for you.

Here are some highlights from his article:
(1) He says happiness is synonymous with welfare, life satisfaction and well-being.
(2) Life events negatively affecting happiness include: separation, divorce, serious physical disability, deteriorating health due to aging, and widowhood.
(3) Life events positively affecting happiness include: marriage and remarriage.
(4) An increase in income doesn't mean increased happiness (beyond, perhaps, an initial surge of happiness).

Those who are separated, divorced, seriously disabled, aging and widowed do adapt to their life situations to some varying degree, but these problems have a lasting and negative effect. About half of single people continue to believe that marriage will bring happiness because they relate it to being part of the "good life."

Those who are married or remarry are happier than those who are single and it's not due to the idea they were happier people to begin with. Further, over life, the happy/unhappy gap widens for those married and those unmarried, meaning after decades of marriage they are happier than those unmarried.

Likely, it is not surprising to most Christians that higher income doesn't correlate with increased happiness, at least beyond a certain point or for any significant length of time. Theoretically, it seems those who have more, want more. They aspire for more goods or more money in the bank thinking they lead to more comfort and, therefore, happiness. However, this is not true. Most people increase the size of their goals or aspire to acquire even more in a never-ending cyclical process. This recreates a gap between what one has and what one wants, thus leading to a feeling of perpetual longing, not satisfaction or happiness.

These thoughts and findings seem to support scripture--"...the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing" (Proverbs 1:8); "Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am" (Philippians 4:11); and "(be) content with what you have" (Hebrews 13:5).

There is an apparent contradiction in some Christians who espouse a hierarchy of values with relationships being at the top--God first, spouse second, and family third--but they give much more of their time to work, career building and acquiring goods at the expense of their marriages, families, and spiritual development. Being content with one's goods and income could lead people to live out their stated values, turn their hearts toward home and allow for a happier disposition.

Other considerations for increasing happiness are: improving one's health (medical procedures, exercise, losing weight), learning to change what you can and accept what you can't, and resisting temptations to change or add to expectations and aspirations, which create longings that compromise satisfaction, well-being and happiness.


* Easterlin, Richard A. (2003). Explaining Happiness. Retrieved from www.pnas.org/content/100/19/11176.full?sid=0d540f-57be-44c7-9383-afd93331955a9

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