The 5 Secrets To Happiness Discovered

Thanks to a smart academic from Melbourne University we now know the secrets to happiness. In a comprehensive study tracking 60 000 Germans over 25 years the results have been distilled into a succinct 5 points (which is ideal for Baptist pastors who can normally only think in sequences of 3-5 points). Despite the fact that millions across the world think that money will make them happy, the findings show that most people are probably looking in the wrong direction.

The 5 key ingredients of happiness are:

  • Have a happy partner
  • Don’t be overworked or underworked
  • Prioritise family and community, and have a partner who does so as well
  • Don’t be materialistic
  • Don’t be obese

Read more here.

That’s bad news for the retail industry, good news for gyms and personal trainers, bad news for demanding bosses, and potentially bad news for miserable people in relationships.  But hang on, what about happiness and contentment in a life of faith in Jesus?  What does the church have to offer people in their search for happiness and fulfillment?

This question has bugged me for years, because it is what began my journey of faith.  Put simply, I was profoundly unhappy.  when I say profoundly unhappy I’m talking seriously, morbidly unhappy to the point of suicide. I noticed the verse in John one day promising that Jesus came that we may have ‘life to the full’.  That got my attention.  I was into happiness, hope, fulfillment.  To cut a long story short I signed up, took a punt that it was true.  And it was!

Ever since then I’ve continually encountered people inside the faith who seem to have been made perpetually miserable thanks to their faith. Thankfully I’ve encountered many people who radiate a genuine happiness and magnetic joy – the kind of people you are glad to be around.  Surely this has to be one of the most powerful missional tools in our kit: a community of magnetic people who draw and attract others into their orbit because they are a daily plus to life.

The Church of Unhappiness

Last night as I watched Q&A on ABC  TV and listened to debate about the abuse of children in the Catholic Church I once again found myself realising that the ‘image’ of the Church (we are all tarred with the same brush) is to a large degree thoroughly trashed in the court of public opinion.  Whilst Geoffrey Robertson (International lawyer) is not necessarily a fan of Christianity I could not fault much of his opinion about the way in which the Catholic Church has historically used Canon law to help pedophiles escape justice. Tariq Ali (British Pakistani, author and commentator) made the point that whilst a massive hypocrisy was occurring with the Church covering up wide scale abuse it was against homosexuality.  In other words, what credibility can the Church have on moral issues when it is covering up and enabling the systematic abuse of children by simply relocating pedophile priests to new unsuspecting parishes?

The Catholic Church is not alone in having indelible stains on its reputation when it comes to the abuse of children, and a failure of justice.  Watching the program and digesting the content sent me back into a deep malaise (a reoccurring theme for me) about how marred the image of God has become in much of the church.  What has befallen the Church so much so that it becomes an institution that causes pain and denies justice?, when it should be the very antithesis of this: a place of healing and protection and a fierce advocate on behalf of justice, and children at the very least.  Furthermore, what kind of short circuit has happened within the Church to divert access so far away from Jesus who came to bring fulfillment and joy?

In my pastoral ministry I have tried as much as possible to oppose ‘sub-cultures of seriousness’ within the life of the congregation, and try and culture shift to a point where the people of joy have pre-eminence over the furrowed brows and folded arm brigade. The church recorded in Acts 2 must have had its fair share of problems but the richness of their relationships with each other is to me one of those seemingly unattainable goals.

Are the 5 secrets enough?

Getting back the 5 secrets, I think they are pretty sensible, and currently I think I may score well on all five.  But is that as good as it gets?  I don’t think so, and the evidence of my empirical findings on the issue of Jesus being the ultimate source of happiness drive me on to share the Good News with the world around me.  I must admit though, that for far too many people, their experience of the Christian faith (as mediated through Churches and Christians) has left them scarred and traumatised.  This is a hard truth to swallow, and one that should make us passionate to wage a constant war on aspects of our Church sub-culture which are dysfunctional and a distortion of the image of God.

A key pre-cursor to anyone listening to you is establishing credibility.  Beyond that, establishing warmth through genuine hospitality in an environment of trust is essential. Against this backdrop is the personal question of happiness.  If we have not found in Christ true happiness then there’s hardly any point in inviting others to consider Christ.  That’s in effect what many people outside the church have done: they’ve assessed the happiness quotient of those who profess faith and found them to be wanting.

Our churches are filled with people who have found a deep and fulfilling happiness in a restored relationship with their Creator.  We need to champion these people and ensure that their sub-culture has pre-eminence over others – because it is a more accurate reflection of the heart of the Christian faith.