Note: In this time of Thanksgiving, we thought it was appropriate to repeat a piece Pastor Jim wrote a few years ago about happiness.
The developers of Happify are working from an intriguing premise: that happiness is a skill which, like all skills, can be acquired through practice. The website is designed is to provide users with exercises that will help build their capacity for happiness.
Happify identifies five skill-sets, that are key conditions for fully lived lives. These are “savoring,” “thanking,” “aspiring,” “giving,” and “empathizing.” It’s all based on the work of Martin Seligman and the field of positive psychology he pioneered.
I’m not a research psychologist, so I have no academic basis on which to evaluate Happify’s claims. (If someone is reading this has a background in this area, I’d love to get together and talk.)
Having said that, the five key areas do have a level of common sense truth about them. What’s more they have striking similarities to aspects of Biblical teaching.
“Savoring,” the ability be in the moment, reminds me of Jesus’ encouragement to consider the lilies and the birds of the air and not worry about tomorrow. The call to thankfulness is all over the Scriptures, not least in the Psalms. “Aspiring” recalls Paul’s admonition to offer oneself as a living sacrifice and to press on toward the goal. “Giving” has lots of parallels in the Bible including Jesus’ evaluation of the gift of the widow. Empathy is encouraged by Paul as a sign of the unity of the body of Christ.
I’m not surprised by these parallels. Perhaps you aren’t either. What’s good to remember is that these Biblical admonitions to a more mindful life are directed to those who are already aware of God’s undeserved grace for them, who trust in God’s promise of forgiveness and life. and who are now called to live their lives as signs of the resurrection which is their hope.
Happiness, of itself, won’t save you. But attentive development of the skills and attitudes that lead to happiness might make you a better witness to the resurrection that Christ has won for you. Happify believes it will make you feel better and they’re probably right.
Rev. James A. Wetzstein serves as one of our university pastors at Valpo and takes turns writing weekly reflections.