Everyone wants to be happy, but where does happiness come from?
This thoughtful documentary explores human happiness and what contributes to it. The pursuit of happiness is not a shallow pursuit but a pursuit of living the way God has designed us to live. Actually, as the documentary states,
“Happiness can help you reach your other goals.”
I enjoyed learning about what these non-Christian researchers found about what makes people happy. God has designed the world to work in a way that when we are connected to him and with others, we are living the life for which we are intended.
Of course, since the documentary is not made from a Christian perspective, the dots are not connected between what God tells us in the Bible and the research. But it was easy for me to see the connections. Here are 6 principles from “Happy.”
1. Happiness is not primarily about circumstances.
According to the documentary, factors that contribute to our happiness are as follows:
50% of your happiness is based on your genetic makeup.
40% can be developed through intentional activity.
10% is based on your external circumstances you may or may not be able to control.
So many people complain about the 10% they can’t control instead of working on the 40% that they can. The Apostle Paul also teaches that contentment and happiness are not based on circumstances. Instead we can trust Jesus to give us strength to be content and experience joy no matter what.
Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11–13
It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, you can be happy either way. The documentary shows examples of people who work hard under tough conditions and live simple lifestyles but experience happiness.
People over-estimate how good or bad things will affect them. In general, people do really well when things go really bad. People often bounce back from extreme tragedy if they have the right mentality and set of tools to cope. In the same way, extremely happy experiences do not last.
2. The experience of “Flow” is connected to happiness.
The reason many types of physical exercise and activity are pleasurable is because they help us experience “flow.” Flow is the feeling that you are doing something that you enjoy and it comes natural to you. It causes you to forget about yourself and other problems in your life. An example for me is surfing. When I am surfing in the right conditions, I can experience an extreme high because I have that “in the zone” experience many athletes have. I am engaged in an activity that I can succeed at.
People who experience flow on a regular basis live happier lives. These experiences release dopamine (the neurotransmitter that produces happiness) and keep our happy juices flowing.
3. Money won’t buy you happiness.
Many people say this, but few actually believe it. Money does help us be happier by getting us to a point where our needs are being met. But once our basic needs are met, then there is not much of a difference in the happiness between the super rich and the middle class. As the documentary puts it:
“Once basic needs are met, more money does not equal more happiness.”
Whatever amount of money you have, you will always adapt to it and then desire more. This endless desire to acquire shows us that money will never fully satisfy us.
Our culture teaches us to chase what are called “extrinsic goals.” These are things like money, image, and status. Studies have shown that the people who chase after these things end up more depressed. Even those who succeed at the game eventually will lose.
On the other hand, true happiness is found in pursuing “intrinsic goals” like personal growth, relationships, and the desire to help others. Studies have shown that people who pursue these things are more happy.
These intrinsic goals are exactly what the church provides people. We get a relationship with God and others. We get the ultimate personal growth opportunity and we have a mission that is far bigger than ourselves. Christians should be some of the happiest people out there!
4. Happiness is found in loving community.
Over and over in the documentary we see that happiness can NOT be achieved in isolation. Loving community has proven to be the greatest contributor to human happiness because we are made for community.
In the documentary, several countries were highlighted. Japan is a very modernized society but values hard work over family. In the film, we saw the devastating effects of how tireless work causes some people to die of over-working! They even have a name for it, Karoshi, which means working to death.
On the other hand, places like Denmark prioritize community. They have more people living in communities where they share meals and live together than any modern country. Sometimes 20 families live in the same complex! They sacrifice living space for a life full of community.
This type of communal living and sharing reminds me of the early church in Acts 2, which was described as a contagiously joyful community.
5. Happiness comes from serving others.
Happiness is experienced when we give our lives away. God designed us to live lives of service for others. Compassion leads to happiness.
In the film, they interviewed a German man who sacrificed his successful business career to work in Calcutta in “The Home for the Dying” that Mother Theresa founded. This man experienced happiness through helping others.
We learn that there is more to life than just taking care of yourself. When we show people that we care and take the burden away from others, we get a sense of happiness in return.
If you only seek your own happiness, it’s a selfish thing. But when you care about things bigger than yourself, you will experience the joy of a well-lived life.
6. Thankfulness and focusing on love leads to happiness.
One section of the documentary that is clearly contrary to Christianity is about Eastern meditation. Even though the application is different, Christians are told to set our minds on God and his love. We are told to meditate on God’s word. Paul told us in Phil 4:8:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.
When we focus on God and the good gifts he provides us, we will have a better life. This does not mean that we ignore the negative things of life. We should see them the way God sees them, as effects of sin and as temporary. As followers of Jesus, we can look forward to heaven where there will be no more suffering or death.
Developing an attitude of gratitude will lead to a happier life.
I believe that Roko Belic has tapped into some deep keys to human happiness in this documentary. My prayer is that I would apply these principles in a Biblical way and lead my family and those in my ministry to experience happier and more purposeful lives for God’s glory.