“The Pursuit of Happiness”
“Happy are the people who are in such a state; happy are the people whose God is the Lord (Psalm 144:15)!”
You may be surprised to learn that the Mayo Clinic has published a Handbook for Happiness. Dr. Amit Sood has developed a four-step program to help people train their minds into choosing happiness.1 Typically, we should be skeptical of such programs prescribed by researchers that will make people happy. But upon further investigation, Sood’s four-step plan may have good reason to actually deliver on its aim.
Firstly, Dr. Sood advises that individuals who want to be happy should train their attention. This is recommended in order to command one’s thoughts and shift perspective. It sounds a bit like New Age, feel good drive. But consider that Paul admonished the Christians in Philippi to think on things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report and to meditate on anything praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). Paul is teaching that we are not to focus on the things which cause anxiety but rather to train our attention on these things instead.
The Handbook’s second step is to develop emotional resilience; focus on what went right and not what has gone wrong. Paul promotes his own example of this step, “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead (Philippians 3:14).” Christians aren’t mired in their past failings but continue to press on for the upward call of Christ knowing that our past sins have been forgiven.
The third step in the Mayo Clinic’s program for happiness is to connect mind and body through prayer or meditation. The Bible teaches that we are composite beings, that is God formed our spirit and placed it in our bodies (Daniel 7:15, Zechariah 12:1). Now some are ignorant of their spiritual nature and live only for their bodies. Paul’s example was to discipline his body and to bring it into subjection (1 Corinthians 9:27). We are advised to make no provision for the flesh (Romans 13:14) but rather we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:2). The great joy for the Christian is not only connecting our bodies to our spirits but in the knowledge that our bodies are the dwelling place of God’s Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Christians are to glorify God in both our body and our spirit, which both belong to God (1 Corinthians 6:20).
Finally, the Happiness Handbook advises picking healthy habits to promote happiness. This indeed is good advice and it has Scriptural support also. Worldly habits put us at enmity with God and make us objects of His wrath (Ephesians 2:2-3). These unhealthy habits are detailed throughout the New Testament (Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, etc…). But those that truly make for peace and happiness are those habits that produce the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25). Peter wrote that when we discontinue those poor unhealthy habits and take on godly living the world thinks it strange (1 Peter 4:1-5) but we know that we have spent enough time pursuing those unhappy paths.
The Mayo Clinic’s Handbook for Happiness may indeed provide a little help for many who are seeking happiness. However, an earlier handbook was published nearly two thousand years ago has proven unfailing in delivering happiness, nay joy, for all who have put its precepts into practice. Of course that handbook is the Bible which delivers something far greater and more enduring than the happiness the world pursues. There really is no lasting happiness without having peace with God (Psalm 16:11). Have you followed God’s program for deep and lasting happiness?
“Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but happy is he who keeps the law (Proverbs 29:18).”