Am I happy in spite of or because of my faith?

Shouldn’t Christians always be happy?

I have written a lot about how to be happy. Here is a link to a  summary article. It shows that most of the factors identified by scientists researching the subject coincide with the advice in the Bible. They also found that religious people do tend to be happier than the average. Here is a link to my first blog in the series. On the other hand, you can probably think of some Christians who do not always seem to be happy, but does that disprove everything I have written on the subject?

Is anyone always happy?

Christians are human beings. (Yes, really!) We experience ups and downs in life, like everyone else. In our health, or wealth, our relationships. It would be absurd to suggest we should never react to circumstances in a way similar to other people. We should, and usually do, lift ourselves up, or get lifted up, somewhat more quickly than most people.

I’m happy inside!

Some of us don’t always show our feelings a lot. I often look serious when I am thinking and that’s quite often. It depends what I’m thinking about, but I do think about serious subjects quite a bit. I’m not miserable, but I don’t go around grinning all the time. Being happy is not the same as being phoney.

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Happy and sad masks. Where is the reality?

Is it always right to be happy?

St Paul tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. It would be insensitive, and unloving, to go around seemingly oblivious to other people’s misfortunes. We should try to help them overcome their problems and/or to look on the bright side, but not in a superficial way. Jesus wept on hearing of the death of his friend Lazarus and seeing how sad Lazarus’s sisters were. He also wept over Jerusalem when he foretold its destruction. We should not be immune to feeling for other people, even those we don’t actually know. It’s called compassion. It does not keep us from experiencing joy at all the good things around us. They are as real as the bad things.

Sometimes it’s very hard to be happy.

Christians often suffer persecution, especially in countries where another religion or philosophy is dominant. It also happens here, if you speak up on an issue where Christian teaching differs from the general belief, or where actually practicing honesty or charity makes you unpopular.  They are not the only ones. Any minority can be a target or anyone who is different. It amazes me how well many Christians, among others, cope when on the receiving end. That things sometimes get them down should not surprise anyone.

Do you expect to be always happy?

Some Christians have expectations that are not supported by the Bible or by evidence.  They may have heard the “prosperity gospel” which says if you have faith things will always go your way. They can be most unhappy when reality strikes.

Doubt
To be happy is to overcome doubt with faith
To have faith it is necessary to experience doubt.

Some Christians find it hard to accept that we are a minority. They think everyone should believe. They get depressed at the state of the country and at the indifference to the message.  I hope and believe things are going to change, but there will be many disappointments on the way. Once you have got a realistic view, you should be able to move on out of that kind of depression. Christians have almost always been a minority.

Can you be unable to be happy?

For some people, depression is a medical condition. It takes time and skill to cure it. Christians can become ill, just like anyone else. We get colds, strain our backs and contract diseases. We can also suffer mental illness. I know that God can and does heal all kinds of diseases. He always has – but not 100%. Jesus performed many miracles of healing, but disease did not disappear from the World or from the Middle East while he was around. Having faith does not mean departing from reality.

If Christians are not always happy, isn’t this a U-turn?

NO! None of the above contradicts the assertion that following the teachings of the Bible leads to happiness. And it spreads.

 

The ten elements of happiness according to scientific research

How’s your happiness level?

I have written several times about the findings of recent research on happiness.

Now I am listing all the ten elements. You might not be able to implement all these suggestions, but see how many you can. I hope it will increase your happiness.

A. Accumulation of wealth does not make you happier beyond a certain level.

B. Be yourself. Don’t be a square peg in a round hole.

C. Count your blessings. Think about the plusses.

D. Do good. Happiness grows as you give it away.

E. Enjoy life. Consciously absorb the good things around you.

F. Forgive people who hurt you.

G. Give thanks to people who help you.

H. Health – take reasonable care of it, without becoming obsessive.

I. Invest in relationships – don’t be a recluse.

JK. Just Know how to deal with catastrophes, whether through religion, philosophy or something more down to earth.

Is your happiness real or just a mask?
Is your happiness real or just a mask?
What about me?

I think I do follow a lot of these guidelines and I do enjoy life most of the time. I’m working on some of the points that I have neglected.

What about you?

Go on! Give them a try. Some of them, at least.

Would you be happier if you invested more in relationships?

Are relationships are an important element in our happiness?

I have written about many factors that people have identified as contributing to happiness. One such factor is the quality of our relationships. This is one on which experts disagree. I will explain why later. But first things first.

What do I mean by ‘relationships’?

Nowadays, we often use this word when we mean ‘sexual relationships’. Other possibilities are work, business and family and friendships. Whilst it is important to look after business and other aspects of our lives, family relationships are the ones the experts think matter most in this context. But don’t neglect the other ones. I was temped to write ‘invest in people’. However, I am aware of an oganisation of that name which gives accreditation to businesses for good personnel policies and practices. I don’t want to confuse you.

What do I mean by ‘invest’?

You can invest money. You can also invest time and effort. Where relationships are concerned, time and effort are what we most need to invest, although money may come into it. It is about priorities. We can get so obsessed with other things that families and friends get … well, not forgotten, but you know what I mean. When you are old, you are unlikely to say ‘I wish I had spent more time in the office’. You could find you have got out of touch with everyone you used to know.

Controversial? Who thinks relationships aren’t factors in happiness?

It seems some of us are natural introverts, recluses even. Such people find relationships are hard work. I mean, harder than they are for everyone else. Following this advice, for them could be stressful. Some people are happier to be left alone. Is that in their best interests? Unfortunately, they often want to be alone only some of the time. Other times they do want company. If you are one, don’t leave it too late to invest in people, or you will become a total recluse. You may have to make an effort.

Do you want to be a hermit or develop relationships?
Do you want to be a hermit or develop relationships?
What do I think?

Personally, I think it is important to know yourself. Be yourself. I said that somewhere else. See The First Step to Happiness: Don’t be a Basil Fawlty!

Just be aware of the issue and be yourself, but make it a conscious decision.

If you are looking for happiness: thank people who have helped you.

Another step towards happiness: thank people

I have written about many factors that have been found to contribute to happiness. See for example What do you do when you have a catastrophe?

Another way to happiness that I have recently read about is giving thanks. For Christians this usually means thanking God. Not a bad idea. But I am talking about thanking people.

Isn’t it just good manners?

I am not talking about saying ‘thankyou’ every day, whenever someone does something helpful. Of course, I hope you do. What I am talking about is making an effort to thank people who have helped you in the past.

  • A teacher
  • a coach
  • a mentor
  • Someone who gave you confidence
  • Someone who gave you useful advice

Do you remember them? Are you in touch? Could you write to them, letting them know how helpful they have been? It may be worth a little effort.

It is better to thank people in writing
It is better to thank people in writing
Do I thank people in this way?

This is something I have never thought about until recently. I have read that remembering to thank people in this way can add to your happiness as well as theirs. How does that work? I don’t know but I think I might try it. What have I got to lose? What about you?

What do you do when you have a catastrophe?

Would a catastrophe destroy your happiness forever?

I have written several blogs about happiness. Such as How much happiness can money buy.  Some people want to know if anything I have said would be any use in the face of a catastrophe. I am not thinking of the everyday sort of thing that makes some people overreact (especially journalists in a quiet month) such as:

  • A festival being cancelled
  • A wet bank holiday
  • An increase in VAT
  • Losing the car keys

I mean the big stuff like the Grenfell fire, the Manchester bomb, floods in Africa. At a personal level too, a serious accident or illness, or the loss of someone you love, can be very hard to deal with. Such things make most of my previous suggestions seem trite. Remember?

  • ‘Be yourself’
  • ‘Count your blessings’
  • ‘Do good to someone’
  • ‘Enjoy the good things around you’

Does this make these things wrong? Part of the problem is that almost anything you say to someone at a time like that is going to sound trite. It is unlikely that it will be original. An expression becomes a cliche through being used a lot. It is used a lot because so many people find it helpful.

However useless so much advice may be, it can not be right for anyone to just give in and be bitter for the rest of his or her life.

How have I coped with catastrophes?

I have so far been  relatively fortunate and am in no position to advise others from my own experience. Fortunately, I don’t have to. I can draw on the experience of lots of people. There is no simple answer that works every time. Different people find different ways of coping.

Are you just putting on a brave mask in response to a catastrophe?
Are you just putting on a brave mask in response to a catastrophe?
Does religion help deal with a catastrophe?

Research does show that for many religion is a help. Prayer, meditation, or the love that comes from other members of your church, mosque, synagogue or whatever. But let us be honest. It is not always so. Some people give up their faith when bad things happen, blaming God. Similarly, some people are glad of their friends in times of trouble, but others turn against their friends.

For those for whom no religion seems to be the answer, the ones who cope best with catastrophe are often the ones with some sort of philosophy to fall back on. This may be an organised philosophy or just a way of looking at life. A simple maxim to call on. ‘Keep calm and carry on’ or ‘things are never as bad as they look’, for instance. It is good to have one ready in case you need it.

How one man coped with a real catastrophe

I have been reading the letters and diaries of my father-in-law, including those written when he was a prisoner of war after being wounded at Monte Cassino. His resilience and optimism, his ability to make light of his troubles, his sympathy for those worse off than himself (!) make me feel ashamed. What kept him going? I have not found any mentio of prayer of faith, although I need to study his writings a bit more, but I think it was the hope that our side would win in the end. When I have finished studying these documents, I intend to turn them into a book. There is a story that needs to be told.

What about you?

To all the factors making for happiness, add something you can call upon in the event of a catastrophe. Most of us have to face one sometime.

Do you love or hate your Prime Minister? Or anyone else?

Hate is in the air.

The Prime Minister and other politicians have been the targets for a lot of hate recently. Partly due to the election result, partly to the London fire.

Let’s be fair.

They may well be due for some criticism. We all have to live with that. We writers have to subject ourselves to professional critics, not to mention lots of amateur ones. Some of the criticism is probably unfair. The flats were not built in the last year, and the regulations were not made by the current government. A lot of people have for a long time accepted the fact that councils had to control their expenditure on housing. What would you have cut to fund a higher standard of building? The NHS? Education? Benefits? That does not mean the government should not be held to account.  Some criticism is probably justified towards many people and organisations. But be fair.

Hate is something else. It may make us feel good for a moment, but it harms us all in the long run.

There was not much hate after recent terrorist incidents

I have been moved by the response to the Manchester bomb and the Borough Market attack. Londoners and Mancunians showed solidarity and love. They did not look for scapegoats. Especially not local Moslems. There was criticism of the Police and MI5. Fair enough. But not hate.

Can we not love our Prime Minister, and all those in government and local government? Pray for the victims and all who have been affected by  these events, including members of the emergency services, who have suffered a lot. Can you not also pray for the Prime Minister and her colleagues?

Let love defeat hate.

St Paul wrote, at the end of Chapter 12 of his letter to the Romans, in the Bible, Be not overcome by evil, but take the initiative and overcome evil with good.

Do you have to be a Christian to agree?