Monday, December 05, 2011

Happy people are spiritual - maybe

Sonja Lyubomirsky is a psychology professor at the University of California, as well as a research psychologist. In her studies, she has discovered 12 things that happy people have in common.

I am happy. Even when I'm feeling crappy, I am a happy person. People are forever asking me how I reached this place. It wasn't because I prayed enough, or took a magic pill, or held my mouth just right while dancing on one foot, or was just born happy (um ... NO ... you can ask my mom about that first year). Yet, I have discovered that self disciplines, even the ones which result in fun, have radically changed my life. These are things I learned through my own therapy and medicinal treatment for depression and anxiety. If you realize the concepts in this series are simply not enough, seek help. Insist on it. Find your own personal level of healing, which is different for everyone. Sometimes I speak "happy" with an accent, because I still dance with depression and anxiety - and that is okay.

I thought I'd focus my Mondays on each of the 12 common factors. It makes sense, because Mondays can totally slurp on the happiness meter.


Oh my. So, today's "Happy People" post may actually make some people very unhappy. But not necessarily for the reasons some might think.

You see, studies continue to prove that religious people, in general, are happier and live longer. To that, all the Protestants and Evangelicals in the room are raising the roof and gettin' all, "Ah yeah, Jesus is the reason - what? What?" This is where I'm going to ruffle some feathers, disappoint several and yet hopefully help us all see which parts of faith and religious practices cross over into general practices of happiness.

I know a lot of genuinely happy people. As we've been covering the past 11 weeks, there are a lot of practices that come together to create this state of mind. As far as today's topic is concerned: some believe in Jesus, some follow the teachings of Buddha, some listen to nature and the universe, and some believe in no higher power at all. Yet I have friends in all of these categories who experience consistent joy and happiness in their lives.

So, I did some digging before hitting today's point.

Chaeyoon Lim, sociologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Robert Putnam of Harvard University, read my mind before I could even think it. They did a study to break down the specifics of why religious people are happier. Because I have witnessed plenty of unhappy AND happy people across the board, this has always been a stat that has never been crystal clear for me. Their findings make sense, and actually coincide with things we've already talked about in this series.

It seems service attendance was the big factor. The more people attended religious services, the happier they felt. Actually, they noted that happiness plateaued at one service each week. It did not increase if you attended multiple services each week (as a survivor of regular Sunday and Wednesday night obligations, I can attest to how more is not necessarily better on the happiness scale!).

However, it goes even farther than that: "People who say they go to church every week but say they have no close friends there are not any happier than people who never go to church," Lim said. "People who say they go once a month or less and say they have a couple of close friends in the church they attend tend to be happier than people who say they go every week but have no close friends."


Realistically, you can instill this practice in your life without being religious or attending religious services. That's gonna' rub some people the wrong way, but I also hope it is read with an understanding that I spent the first 37 years of my life attending church services a minimum of three times a week. The more personal connections I had, the happier I was. That changed over the years, but was also true with how I was connecting outside of church services.

Meaning, in fact, that atheists can find just as much community and happiness as the Methodists. To which all the atheists say, "Um ... duh!"

Regular church attendance does, however, have a built in advantage to put those opportunities in front of you each and every week. A way to find commonality and purpose with others. An opportunity to build relationships. Yet, it can happen in any group setting. If you do not regularly attend religious services, how do you live out the truth that "Happy People Connect?"


Dennis Nesser said...

Funny I just put in my blog that I truly believe the primary purpose of physical churches is to provide community, and not to make up man made rules in the name of God.

I look back in the Bible and see where the the New Testament constantly talks about community.

Thanks for this series. It's given me something to ponder, and in this case totally agrees with what I already knew. :)

God Bless,

Janet Oberholtzer said...

As someone that has been going through a spiritual funk (that horrific accident caused me to ask all kinds of questions) I find this post interesting.

I wasn't quite where you are, but I did about 2 church services a week. I was even in church leadership for a time ... but I've not gone to church for the past year or so and have no desire to go back, but I'd heard/read the surveys about religious people being happier, so I wondered when the sadness would hit.

I'm happy to hear that connection with others in any settings works. Which explains why I'm still happy (actually I'm happier since I don't have the church pressures) And I do connect with lots of other people in other social settings/events/etc. so I'm good :)

Miz Kizzle said...

My husband the deacon put it right when he said that churches (and schuls and mosques and temples) should be hospitals for ailing souls rather than exclusive clubs where the members gloat over their spiritual superiority.
I am turned off by people who begin statements with, "Well, I am a Christian and I think..." as if whatever they have to say is automatically correct by the fact that they identify themselves as Christians.
I am disgusted by people (including a former president) who try to force their own opinions and agendas on others by using scripture to prove their point. Anyone who has studied the Bible knows it is filled with contradictions. Just about every activity that is praised in one section is condemned in another.
Lastly, if we truly lived according to Biblical edicts we would be keeping slaves, stoning people to death, sacrificing oxen and selling our daughters into slavery to pay off debt.
We should all mind our own business and not be judgmental.
Too many so-called Christians are obsessed with hating and finger-pointing.

Dennis Nesser said...

Miz Kizzle...AMEN! How nicely said.