As I write this, I look out my window to yet another gloomy, overcast day, and I wonder what it takes to maintain a spirit of happiness underneath the long shadow of winter.
Dennis Prager, a radio talk show host, regularly reminds his listeners that they have a moral duty to be happy. Why? Because happy people are infectious, and they lift the spirits of those around them. This may help answer the “why” question, but it still doesn’t address the “how.”
In her masterful work, The How of Happiness, psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky asks the question, “What determines happiness?” Here is what studies have found: “Only about 10% of what determines happiness is due to life circumstances” (The How of Happiness, 20-21).
J. P. Moreland writes, “It becomes evident that circumstances are subject to the law of diminishing returns. If you get married, get a raise at work, and experience a host of other good things happening to you, it will usually only take a few months or so for the newness to wear off. This law of diminishing returns is the basic cause of addiction, e.g., to pornography, alcohol, or drugs” (Finding Quiet, 55).
It appears that happiness is somewhat determined by happenstance, what happens to us in life. But that accounts for roughly only 10% of our happiness.
Here’s the kicker. 40% of our happiness quotient is due to—are you ready for this—intentional free choices. This means that we have within our power the ability to choose the right things and form habits that can substantially improve our happiness and decrease our gloomy outlook on the long winter shadows of our souls. There really is hope.
Dr. Lyubomirsky chalks up the remainder 50% of our happiness quotient to inherited, biological set points where some people are born with a greater disposition of happiness than others. Maybe so, but I think the good doctor is overlooking one crucial aspect that weighs into our happiness status—hope in the One who shines brightly, even when the high cumulus darkens the surface around us.
Perhaps this description of hope is incorporated into our intentional free choices, but we should never overlook the fact that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, casts His radiant light into our world of darkness, so that we can “share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:12b). God has delivered us from the “domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). We are called “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Above all else, we choose to do the right things and form healthy habits that substantially improve our happiness, because we, of all people, have hope beyond any happenstance we face in this life, and that hope is found in Jesus.
That, my friends, is what ultimately makes us happy.