A. What is your secret to living a long, happy life?
B. The story is told of a woman walked up to a little old man rocking in a chair on his porch.
1. She said, “I couldn’t help noticing how happy you look, what’s your secret for a long happy life?”
2. The man said, “I smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, I also drink a case of whiskey a week, eat fatty foods, and never exercise.”
3. “That’s amazing,” the woman said. “How old are you?”
4. He said, “Twenty-six.”
C. I’m assuming that every one of us want to be happy.
1. We want to live a life that is satisfying and successful.
2. And there is nothing wrong with that desire.
3. When the founders of our country wrote the Declaration of Independence, they wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
D. I’ve borrowed today’s sermon title from a movie by the same name that came out in 2006.
1. How many of you saw the movie? In my opinion it was quite good.
2. Will Smith stars in this moving tale inspired by the true story of Chris Gardner, a San Francisco salesman struggling to build a future for himself and his 5 year-old son, Christopher..
a. When his girlfriend Linda walks out, Chris is left to raise Christopher on his own.
b. Chris’ determination finally pays off when he lands an unpaid internship in a brutally competitive stockbroker-training program where only one in 20 interns will get a job.
c. But without a salary, Chris and his son are evicted from their apartment and are forced to sleep on the streets, in homeless shelters and even behind the locked doors of a metro station bathroom.
d. With self-confidence and the love and trust of his son, Chris Gardner rises above his obstacles to become a Wall Street legend.
e. Chris Gardner started his own brokerage firm in 1987, and then sold it in a multi-million dollar deal in 2006.
3. The film’s title is obviously derived from the words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence; but the misspelling of "happiness" comes from a mural decorating the exterior of the son’s day care center run by foreigners.
E. How can we not only spell “happiness,” but achieve it?
1. Throughout time, people have come up with lots of theories for happiness.
2. But in the end, only the God who made us and knows us, can bring us to a place of happiness.
3. Psalm 68:3 reads, “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.”
F. The rest of today’s sermon is based on an article from last month’s edition of Reader’s Digest.
1. The article’s author is Dr. Arthur Brooks, PhD, who is a professor of business and government policy at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.
2. The article’s title is “Why We’re Happy” and the subtitle reads, “Turns out, happiness has a lot to do with values – and it’s key to our prosperity as a nation.”
3. The article in Reader’s Digest is adapted from Brook’s book Gross National Happiness.
4. When I read the article I was so impressed, because here was a secular researcher and professor basically saying, “God is right – religious values are what make us happy.”
G. Let me read a few paragraphs from the article, “In the Declaration of Independence, the Founders didn’t treat happiness as some fuzzy concept; they believed that people wanted happiness and had the right to pursue it. Along with life and liberty, happiness was the connection between the Creator and our nation’s destiny, and the ability of its citizens to pursue and achieve happiness was a measure of the effectiveness and morality of the state.
But today’s leaders and policymakers seem to have forgotten this. To hear politicians talk about gross domestic product, health-care reform, and Social Security, you’d think that this nation’s Founding Fathers held as self-evident that we are endowed by our Creator with the ability to purchase new, high-quality consumer durables each and every year, or to enjoy healthy economic growth with low inflation and full employment. The Founders didn’t talk about these matters, not because they’re unimportant, but because they believed happiness went deeper.
As a professor of business and government policy, I’ve long been interested in the pursuit of happiness as a national concept. According to hundreds of reliable surveys of thousands of people across the land, happy people increase our prosperity and strengthen our communities. They make better citizens - and better citizens are vital to making our nation healthy and strong. Happiness, in other words, is important for America. So when I chanced upon data a couple of years ago saying that certain Americans were living in a manner that facilitated happiness - while others were not - I jumped on it.
I wanted to be able to articulate which personal lifestyles and public policies would make us the happiest nation possible. I also wanted to know which of my own values, learned during my childhood in Seattle and practiced during my career as a university professor, were the most conducive to happiness. I had always thought that marching to the beat of my own drummer and making up my own values as I went along were the right things to do, and that traditional values, to put it bluntly, were for suckers.
Turns out that I was in for some surprises. First, just what is happiness? Most researchers agree that it involves an assessment of the good and bad in our lives. It’s the emotional balance sheet we keep that allows us to say honestly whether we’re living a happy life, in spite of bad things now and then…
Average happiness levels in America have stayed largely constant for many years.
- In 1972, 30 percent of the population said they were very happy with their lives, according to
the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey.
- In 1982, 31 percent said so, and in 2006, 31 percent said so as well.
- The percentage saying they were not too happy was similarly constant, generally hovering
around 13 percent.
The factors that add up to a happy life for most people are not what we typically hear about.. Things like winning the lottery, getting liposuction, and earning a master’s degree don’t make people happy over the long haul. Rather, the key to happiness, and the difference between happy and unhappy Americans, is a life that reflects values and practices like faith, hard work, marriage, charity, and freedom.”
H. Let’s spend a few minutes reflecting on the spiritual dimension of each of these keys to happiness.
I. Happiness Predictor 1: Faith
A. Roughly 85 percent of Americans identify with a religion, and about a third of Americans attend a house of worship every week or more.
1. These statistics have changed relatively little over the decades.
2. By international standards, America’s level of religious practice is exceptionally high.
a. In Holland, for example, just 9 percent of the population attends church on a regular basis; in France, it’s 7 percent; in Latvia, 3 percent.
B. In general, religious Americans (those who attend a place of worship almost every week or more) are happier than those who rarely or never attend.
1. In 2004 the General Social Survey found that 43 percent of religious folks said they were very happy with their lives, compared with 23 percent of secularists.
2. Religious people were a third more likely than secularists to say they’re optimistic about the future.
3. And secularists were nearly twice as likely as religious people to say “I’m inclined to feel I’m a failure.”
4. The author concluded: “Of course, not every religious person is happy; neither is every secularist unhappy. Nonetheless, it’s clear that faith is a common value among happy Americans.”
C. None of this should surprise us.
1. We all know the tremendous difference that our faith makes in our life.
2. Jesus said that he came that we might have abundant life (John 10:10), and it is our faith that leads us to that abundant life.
3. Our faith leads us to contentment, strength and joy, even in the midst of all kinds of difficult circumstances.
4. Blessed and happy are those who know God, trust God and walk with God. Amen!
II. Happiness Predictor 2: Work
A. Dr. Brooks continues, “If you hit the lottery today, would you quit your job? If you’re like most
Americans, you probably wouldn’t. When more than 1,000 people across the country were asked in 2002, ‘If you were to get enough money to live comfortably for the rest of your life, would you stop working?’ fewer than a third of the respondents answered yes.”
B. Contrary to widely held opinion, most Americans like or even love their work.
1. In 2002 an amazing 89 percent of workers said they were very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their jobs.
2. This isn’t true just for those with high-paying, highly skilled jobs but for all workers across the board.
3. And the percentage is almost exactly the same among those with and without college degrees and among those working for private companies, nonprofit organizations, and the government.
C. For most Americans, job satisfaction is nearly equivalent to life satisfaction.
1. Among those people who say they are very happy in their lives, 95 percent are also satisfied with their jobs.
2. Dr. Brooks concludes, “The bottom line here: If we want to be happy, we need to work. And that’s advice worth sharing with our kids as well.”
D. God has always had a very high view of work, and has always wanted His people to be working, for their own good.
1. At the dawn of human history we read, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Gen. 2:15) See, God had work for us to do from the very beginning.
2. Paul wrote, “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” (Eph. 4:28)
3. Paul wrote to Titus, “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.” (Titus 3:14)
4. Therefore, it is no surprise that work and happiness go hand in hand.
III. Happiness Predictor 3: Marriage & Family
A. Dr. Brooks writes, “Matrimony has taken a lot of hits since the 1960s. It’s been said to hold many people, especially women, back from their full potential to be happy. Don’t believe it.”
B. Here are some of the statistics from the article.
1. In 2004, 42 percent of married Americans said they were very happy - just 23 percent of never-married people said this.
2. The happiness numbers were even lower for other groups:
3. Only 20 percent of those who were widowed, 17 percent of those who were divorced, and 11 percent of those who were separated but not divorced said they were happy.
4. Overall, married people were six times more likely to say that they were very happy than to report that they were not too happy.
5. And generally speaking, married women say they’re happy more often than married men.
C. Dr. Brooks found that “Marriage isn’t just associated with happiness -- it brings happiness, at least for a lot of us.”
1. One 2003 study that followed 24,000 people for more than a decade documented a significant increase in happiness after people married.
2. For some, the happiness increase wore off in a few years, and they ended up back at their premarriage happiness levels. But for others, it lasted as long as a lifetime.
D. And what about having kids?
1. Dr. Brooks reports, “While children, on their own, don’t appear to raise the happiness level (they actually tend to slightly lower the happiness of a marriage), studies suggest that children are almost always part of an overall lifestyle of happiness, which is likely to include such things as marriage and religion.
2. Dr. Brooks concludes, “Consider this: While 50 percent of married people of faith who have children consider themselves to be very happy, only 17 percent of nonreligious, unmarried people without kids feel the same way.”
E. What does God say about this?
1. Gen. 2:18, “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” So God made Eve for Adam.
2. Then God said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24) Marriage is God’s idea from the start.
3. One of my favorite verses about marriage is Proverbs 18:22, “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD.”
4. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Marriage should be honored by all…” (Heb. 13:4)
F. Marriage and families are the wonderful creation of God, and when lived according to God’s principles are a source of great joy and satisfaction.
IV. Happiness Predictor 4: Charity
A. Dr. Brooks begins, “We’ve all heard that money doesn’t buy happiness, and that’s certainly true. But there is one way to get it: Give money away.“
1. The evidence is clear that gifts to charitable organizations and other worthy causes bring substantial life satisfaction to the givers. If you want $50 in authentic happiness today, just donate it to a favorite charity.
2. People who give money to charity are 43 percent more likely than nongivers to say they’re very happy.
3. Volunteers are 42 percent more likely to be very happy than nonvolunteers.
4. Dr. Brooks says, “It doesn’t matter whether the gifts of money go to churches or symphony orchestras; religious giving and secular giving leave people equally happy, and far happier than people who don’t give. Even donating blood, an especially personal kind of giving, improves our attitude. In essence, the more people give, the happier they get.”
B. None of this should surprise us, right?
1. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts. 20:35)
2. Solomon the wise man wrote, “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” (Prov. 11:24-25)
3. Giving, in all its forms, is a key to happiness.
V. Happiness Predictor 5: Freedom
A. Dr. Brooks wrote, “The Founders listed liberty right up there with the pursuit of happiness as an
objective that merited a struggle for our national independence. In fact, freedom and happiness are intimately related:”
1. “People who consider themselves free are a lot happier than those who don’t.”
2. In 2000 the General Social Survey revealed that people who personally feel ‘completely free’ or ‘very free’ were twice as likely as those who don’t to say they’re very happy about their lives.”
B. Dr. Brooks clarifies, “Not all types of freedom are the same in terms of happiness, however.”
1. “Researchers have shown that economic freedom brings happiness, as does political and religious freedom.”
2. But listen to this, and I quote, “On the other hand, moral freedom -- a lack of constraints on behavior -- does not. People who feel they have unlimited moral choices in their lives when it comes to matters of sex or drugs, for example, tend to be unhappier than those who do not feel they have so many choices in life.”
3. Dr. Brooks continues, “Americans appear to understand this quite well. When pollsters asked voters in the 2004 Presidential election what the most important issue facing America was, the issue voters chose above all others was ‘moral values.’ This beat out the economy, terrorism, the Iraq war, education, and health care as people’s primary concern. Pundits and politicians would certainly like us to think otherwise, and critics scoffed at the conclusion, interpreting it as evidence that ordinary Americans were out of touch. But moral values are critical to Americans. This suggests that, as a people, we do best by protecting our political and economic freedoms and guarding against a culture that sanctions licentiousness.”
4. What do you think of that? And from a secular professor at Syracuse University!
C. God has something to say about the importance of our freedom.
1. First, we learn that the truth sets us free – Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (Jn. 8:31-32)
2. Second, we also learn that the Holy Spirit leads to freedom – Paul wrote, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor. 3:17)
3. Paul, however, clarified that our freedom should have restraint, he wrote, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” (Gal. 5:13)
A. Dr. Brooks concludes his article with some lessons for America.
1. He wrote, “The data tell us that what matters most for happiness is not having a lot of things but having healthy values. Without these values, our jobs and our economy will bring us soulless toil and joyless riches. Our education will teach us nothing. There will be no reason to fight - or to make peace, for that matter - to protect our way of life. Our health-care system will keep us healthier, but what’s the point of good health without a happy life to enjoy?”
2. “The facts can help remind us of what we should be paying attention to, as individuals and as families, if we want to be happy. There’s also an important message here for public policy and politics. We must hold our leaders accountable for the facts on happiness and refuse to take it lightly when politicians abridge the values of faith, work, family, charity, and freedom.”
B. God truly knows what is best for us and knows what will lead to lives that are joyful and satisfying.
1. As the Psalmist wrote, “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.” (Ps. 68:3)
2. Righteousness and happiness go hand in hand.
3. Will we trust and obey God?
4. Will we walk with Him and follow His precepts?
5. Will we make faith, family, hard work, and charity primary things in our lives?
6 If we will, then a sense of joy and fulfillment will be ours.
7 May God bless our pursuit of happiness in His name! Amen.