Given the current context, the recent publication of the National Accounts of Wellbeing from the New Economics Foundation couldn’t be more timely and more fascinating (see HERE; HERE and HERE). There is increasing political interest in such research and indices of human wellbeing and the role these should play in policy making. That’s one reason why I felt the need to flag up such things in my book, A Permanent Becoming, and hopefully play some small part in waking up the Christian Community to the central role it can play in such things.
Though I write specifically about happiness here, the relationship to issues of wellbeing are the same.
Wake Up Call
The search for happiness has a long history.
One ancient Greek Philosopher said something like, ‘No one ever pursues happiness as a means to something else.’ By which, he meant that while you might go after money, or fame, or sex because you think they will bring you happiness, you don’t go after happiness to get . . . well you don’t.
The point is this: the pursuit of happiness is core to who we are. It’s one of the things that all human beings do. Happiness is a uniquely desirable commodity and the ultimate goal of many people’s lives.
Observations like these led the not so ancient (and not so Greek) philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, to say something like: The best society is one where its citizens are happy. So the best thing a government can do is try and generate the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
Bentham called his idea, Utilitarianism – which won’t make you happy.
But, hard to believe as it is, most government policy is simply trying to make as many people happy as is possible – which is really nice of them. Except that it isn’t working!
All the research and reports suggest: happiness levels in the richest nations of the world have barely changed over the last fifty years, despite huge increases in prosperity, while some of the poorest countries on the planet have the happiest people. The fact is, policies that are only concerned with wealth generation are distracting us from what really produces happiness.
Take the polish man who awoke from a coma, which had lasted 19 years. He’d slept through the fall of communism and the rise of the free market economy in his country. When asked what he noticed had changed he said: ‘The shops are now full. People have lots of new things, like designer clothes and mobile phones. But they’re not as happy as I remember them.’
It would seem that the political mantra, ‘It’s the economy stupid’, isn’t worth repeating . . .
One of the Psalmists says this: Your people are wonderful and they make me happy.
Is church the first place you go to look for happiness?
Lots of people I know think Christians are joyless, when in reality, we should be leaders in the pursuit of happiness. We need big advertising hoardings outside our churches saying ‘Happiness is Here!’
But that means the church has to walk the road that leads to happiness. We need to become living signposts for people to follow towards the Good Life. The elements that produce happiness should be at the centre of our Christian Communities.
People are genuinely looking for a happiness that lasts. So let’s tell them that they can find it with God, through God’s Spirit, within the Christian community, and not play games by pretending that happiness is a worldly pursuit, while we have something altogether better, called joy.
The pursuit of happiness is a legitimate biblical, theological and sociological objective.
Here’s some good advice from Paul Martin. It’s not biblical. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true or that you can’t find the same advice in Scripture. Actually, I think God would say, ‘Yes and Amen’ to it. What’s more, I think it’s a great place to start if we want to make our Christian communities happiness hubs.
o Take a broad, long-term view of happiness: there is much more to it than immediate pleasure.
o Happiness is good for you, good for your children and good for society, so don’t be embarrassed about making it a top priority.
o Personal relationships are absolutely central to happiness and health. Be connected.
o Be active and engaged: throw yourself into meaningful pursuits.
o Look outwards, not inwards: focus your attention on other people and the world around you rather than dwelling on your own thoughts and feelings.
o Love unconditionally.
o A good education is one that fosters, among other things, social and emotional competence, communication skills, wisdom, resilience and a life-long love of learning.
o Let children play.