Recently I read an interesting article that basically told me what I already knew. The article focused on the happiness theme. That is not surprising, since happiness is an “in thing” these days. There are many studies that attempt to show us what happiness is, how to be happy and how to make it last. I have said many times that I am certainly for happiness. It is hard for me to imagine anyone saying, “No, I prefer being unhappy!”
The article was helpful as a reminder. And it put together some important information for me to share with you. I am convinced that happiness is not always a spiritual issue, but it can be a spiritual issue. Personally, I am not sure that happiness should be a spiritual goal, but I am certain that happiness as a byproduct of spiritual goals is a good thing.
The author of the article, Ramesh Ponnuru, works in what he calls a “think tank,” the American Enterprise Institute. The president of that think tank, Arthur Brooks, has written a book on happiness. So much of Ponnuru’s article is a reflection of Brooks’ book. The key sentence in the article summarizes a central part of Brooks’ book. “Brooks’ read is that the four great sources of happiness within human control are faith, family, friends and work.”
These four pillars of happiness---faith, family, friends and work---validate what I have read elsewhere. And it resonates with my own experience. Of course, there are individuals who may be exceptional, that is, they can find happiness in other places than these four. But I do think Brooks is correct. We have a better likelihood of being happy if we have one or more of the pillars in our life.
Some of us are luckier than others. Some folks probably have all four pillars present in their lives. Personally, I know I have a pretty good deal. I have my share of family. I have kids and grandkids. I am a person of faith. Of course, I could be better with my kids and I could be a person with a stronger faith. I never admit or say that I am perfect! Far from it!
And certainly, I feel quite lucky with friends and work. I have more friends than I deserve. And the friends I have are more caring and gracious than I can believe. One of my friends is convinced that we can list our “true friends” by writing on a list all those folks we can call at 4:00 am and they will come out to help us. I am not sure how long that list is for me! My work is quite rewarding, partly because I can work with people. I resonate with people who say it never feels like they have to go to work because they like it so much.
I understand that many people in the world do not have all four pillars of happiness in their lives. In fact, some folks may not have one of the four pillars present in life. That does not condemn them to being unhappy. It probably does make it more difficult to be happy. It would mean the person would have to find sources or resources of happiness somewhere else in his or her life.
It goes without saying that some of us can have one or more pillars of happiness in our lives and still be unhappy. For example, it is possible to have friends or be a person of faith and still be unhappy. A pillar of happiness is not a guarantee that you will be happy. It simply makes it more likely that you will be happy.
While I find this quite interesting it also seems persuasive to me, I am always led to the saying, “so what?” So what does this mean for my life? Allow me to put my perspective forward. In my life, the Spirit and being spiritual is primary. This is what I think Jesus taught. The Spirit takes precedence over all four pillars of happiness. In practice, however, being spiritual does not mean having no family, no friends, and a lousy job. Being spiritual means having a living relationship with the Spirit---the Holy One. I can have friends and this living relationship at the same time. It means I can have work that brings me happiness.
Sometimes being spiritual brings happiness to me. Sometimes being spiritual brings sadness. I think it is impossible to be happy all the time. That is a key conviction of mine. If my goal in life is always to be happy, then I will fail. Let me offer an example or two.
I have been blessed with friends and, indeed, they are pillars of happiness. But if one of my close friends were to die, I would be very sad. There would be no happiness in the moment. Because I care, there would be deep grief. My friend is a pillar of happiness, not a guarantee of happiness. In fact, to have a friend makes us vulnerable to potential sadness.
It is worth a great deal to have one or more pillars of happiness---faith, family, friends and work. I like this order. It starts with faith for me. Faith is investing my life in the relationship with the Holy One, called God by many. Start here. You also can work on developing friendships. Work on these and increase your likelihood of happiness.