Geography of Happiness
Delbert W. Baker is a general vice president of the General Conference.Everyone searches for happiness, but few find it. Eric Weiner, former National Public Radio journalist, traveled to places in which people were known to be happy. In a world of problems, calamities, and atrocities Weiner visited countries that research documented that the people living there were happy.
In his book The Geography of Bliss (2008), Weiner describes visiting nine countries that rated high on happiness surveys: The Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Thailand, Great Britain, India, and the United States. He concluded that while so-called happier countries had some elements in common, they also had significant differences.
Weiner is quick to admit that he didn’t come up with much that was revolutionary or particularly spiritual. He came away with a few broad, anecdotal conclusions, such as: money matters, but less than we think. Family is important; so are friends. Envy is toxic; so is excessive thinking. Trust, as well as gratitude, is essential.
Further, Weiner posits that extroverts are happier than introverts; optimists are happier than pessimists; married people are happier than singles, though people with children are no happier than childless couples; people who attend religious services are happier than those who do not; people with college degrees are happier than those without; people with an active sex life are happier than those without; women and men are equally happy, though women have a wider emotional range.
Happiness research bears out that people can do several things to increase feelings of happiness and well-being. Acts such as smiling, making eye contact, saying hello, sending an appreciative e-mail, doing kind deeds, thinking of things you are grateful for before sleep, singing songs, working in nature, having fun, and meditating are a few ways to increase your feeling of well-being.
So does a person have to live in a certain place to be happy? Fortunately no. The Bible demonstrates that a Christian can experience a sense of well-being or happiness wherever they are—in the midst of problems and trials and calamities—anyplace in the world. Christians are happy not because of where they live but because of what they believe. In fact, a believer in Christ is more interested in pleasing God than in seeking happiness. Christians know that lasting happiness will be realized only in the new earth (Rev. 21).
Case in point: Paul and Silas sang joyfully while in prison (Acts 16:16-34), not your typical happy locale. In a dark, dank prison Paul and Silas belted out songs of praise.
While there are things we can do to be happy, lasting happiness that allows you to sing in prison and in the martyr’s flames comes from something much more substantive. Paul and Silas had a connection and a sure foundation that gave them a song in the midst of trouble. They had a sense of heavenly happiness, that attitude Jesus spoke about in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12).
Paul and Silas knew their lives were under the umbrella of providence. Like the Hebrews in the fiery furnace, they had a conviction that God could deliver them, but they would not worry if He chose not to (Dan. 3:16-18). They believed, as did Joseph, that people can do evil things, but that in partnership with God the evil that people intend works out for good. They knew that all things work for the good of those who love God (Rom. 8:28). Their peace, their happiness if you will, transcends location and situation (Phil. 4:7).
John Wilhelm Rowntree (1868-1905) began to lose his sight in his mid-20s. After an examination a doctor told Rowntree that nothing could be done, and that Rowntree would soon go completely blind. Outside the office, Rowntree stood holding on to a railing to collect himself. Suddenly he felt the love of God embrace him, and he was filled with a joy that he had never known before. Under circumstances that were hardly ideal he experienced the presence of God and a sense of joy and peace that made him truly happy.
True happiness is a choice. That choice brings with it true peace and joy. Well-being is found in a relationship with a Person, not a place.