NAME four THINGS that among others are increasingly shown in surveys not to be major factors in a person's happiness. Money. Climate. Marriage. Your lot in life.
Name four things that people say do promote their joy and contentment. Family/friends. Gratitude. Religion. The unconditional love of a pet.
Such are the conclusions drawn from studies like those highlighted earlier this year in Time magazine's special Mind and Body issue, "The science of happiness" (Jan. 17). But along with those findings, the report notes new, often unanswered questions: Is happiness ultimately a genetic predisposition? Is it really just a matter of seeing the glass half full instead of half empty? Why do some people bounce back from crushing adversity, while others languish in the wake of smaller defeats?
Answers lie in the knowledge of God and each individual's relationship to Him. The Science of Christianity, which Mary Baker Eddy discovered in 1866, offers those who practice it the God-derived treasures of healing and spiritual transformation - about the happiest attainments one can have. It shows they're ours through the teachings of Jesus. And starting with prophetic promises of salvation, and "good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people" (Luke 2:10), the message of Jesus is a message of light and hope, based on the conviction that the kingdom of God is at hand.
Jesus didn't walk the earth to promote human happiness. When a central aspect of his life involved struggle and tribulation, to suggest that he was just promoting happiness would be to trivialize the sacrifices he made and misguide those who think that following him means never having to face adversity. But Jesus triumphed over sin, disease, and even death.
Yet he also taught people about true happiness - happiness that is more the byproduct of spiritual attainment than the goal of it. In this light, these words of Jesus ring with new meaning: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt. 6:33). Isn't happiness one of those necessary "things added"?
It's no wonder that today's research finds us deriving more ultimate joy from the love of friends (and even pets) than from the success of stock portfolios. The former is an example of something built on enduring spiritual qualities such as loyalty, compassion, patience. The latter, while useful, is not necessarily built on spiritual qualities, because it is material, vulnerable, and ultimately unreliable.
We'll never get to true happiness and satisfaction in and of ourselves - by simply managing our likes and dislikes. We need that "missing link," the essential truth that lifts the whole matter out of the realm of psychology, genetics, and social trends, and beyond the stark landscape of human existence that is conceived of as a random collection of electrical impulses. That trustworthy source, that essential link to joy, is the Christ - the divine nature that is identified with Jesus. As each individual gains a growing understanding of Christ and its impact on our lives, life is by its very nature more meaningful, more joyous.
God is omnipotent good, and each of us is the complete expression of this goodness. With a growing understanding of God and Christ, we begin to practice a transforming, saving, redeeming Science.
It's this absolute Science that offers the promise of healing in human existence, where assumptions such as "Nothing's perfect" and "You have to take the good with the bad" seem beyond argument. No, it doesn't guarantee that unhappiness won't come. But it does guarantee a way out.
"The nature of Christianity is peaceful and blessed," wrote Mary Baker Eddy, "but in order to enter into the kingdom, the anchor of hope must be cast beyond the veil of matter into the Shekinah into which Jesus has passed before us; and this advance beyond matter must come through the joys and triumphs of the righteous as well as through their sorrows and afflictions" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pages 40-41).
A hopeful statement indeed, once the decision has been made to put God first, with the assurance that the "added things" will come in His good time, in His good way. We can anchor in a safe harbor, where it's never too much to ask to be happy. Really happy.