“Happiness then, is found to be something perfect and self sufficient, being the end to which our actions are directed.”
– Aristotle, Ethics
Of all the things we lost in 2020, the most devastating was our day-to-day happiness. We lost not only the apathetic normalcy of suburban America, but the stabilizing calm of a world that has a chance for a peaceful tomorrow when today was kind of lousy. There was no clear hope for that tomorrow – no one knew when tomorrow would roll around.
It looks like tomorrow may come in a big way in April, 2021. As vaccines distribute worldwide and the number of recoveries increases by the day, we inch closer to a herd immunity and public sentiment that will pave the way to public life. As we forge ahead in that direction, I am thinking about rebuilding not just routines and freedoms, but happiness. And by this, I mean the opposite of normal. Normal is the baseline against which happy is measured. If normal is ground level, happiness is a mountaintop. I’m not going back to normal. I’m going to chase happiness.
Fortunately for me, two things are at play. Scientific studies on the sources of happiness (and its obstacles) have for the last decade emerged as a legitimate field of study in psychology. Quantifiable research is being done on what makes us happy and why. Secondly, this is the iGeneration. All those studies are available everywhere and all the time. Knowledge from now on is going to spread like laughter. It will not only be available, it will be contagious.
So the Bible verse around which I will revolve in 2021 is a teaching of Jesus in John 10:10, the second half of the verse: “I have come to give you life to the full.” Some translations follow Jerome’s Latin translation from the 4th century, when he used abundantias: “abundant life.” The Greek adverb here is “perisson.” It has the sense of exceeding the need to be measured and way more than necessary. The Bible uses it to refer to how much God can do (like, you know, a ton), and how much more than a prophet Jesus actually is (picture your Christian summer camp counselor trying to explain this with her arms over her head – like way, way more, you guys).
There are even some things we can do to increase our happiness. We can actually track what is shaping our half-empty-half-full mindset and tilt ourselves in the direction of living the life that Jesus promises.
The first is to pay attention to what actually causes happiness (your intuitions are wrong on this one). Martin Seligman, who holds a PhD from U. Penn in psychology, has named five. I’m changing his terminology, but here are the ideas:
- Positivity – the ability to focus on hope and thankfulness
- Passion – finding something in which you love to lose yourself, your calling
- People – happiness is inextricably tied to loving relationships
- Purpose – discovering that your life is part of something greater
- Progress – the ability to set reasonable goals and chase after them
I’m going to explore each of those in posts to come. There’s no reason why 2021 has to be a festering of wounds, when it can be a rebuilding of the human heart according to the blueprints of the creator. For my part, I’m not going back to normal. I’m going to chase after abundant life.