And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Ecclesiastes 4:4
I’ve wrote a post on this topic over a year ago. A recent article on The Huffington Post stated how there are “over 75 million Google search results for the term and 40,000 happiness-related books available for purchase on Amazon … And it’s not necessarily helping us to become any happier.”
A couple of articles caught my attention which has brought me back to this topic. It caused me to think of the lyrics to the country and western song by Waylon Jennings which goes “searching for love in all the wrong places.” Just substitute “happiness” for “love” and you get the point.
The first story comes from Yale University, an Ivy league college in New Haven, Connecticut. Just out of curiosity, what would you think is the most popular course at this institution? English? Philosophy? A terrific history course? Nope. None of the above.
The answer is Psych 157: Psychology and the Good Life taught by Laurie Santos. Almost one-fourth of the entire undergraduate school has signed up for this course. In her own words, she “tries to teach students how to lead a happier, more satisfying life in the twice-weekly lectures.” Mind you, all of these students are classified as millennials.
Why so popular? Well, a recent study in 2013 by Yale found that more than half of the undergraduates have sought mental health care since being enrolled. That is fairly consistent with other studies of millennials which have shown a dramatic increase in depression and suicide in this age group.
One of the core principles of the course is that millennials are finding that their quest to obtain happiness by achievement – winning an award, getting a high grade, or landing a prestigious internship – has nothing to do with achieving happiness. As Santos notes, scientists have gotten it all wrong on our intuition on what makes us happy.
Put another way: stuff and awards don’t make one happy. Pretty basic, and something Solomon thought about back in Ecclesiastes when he said it was all just chasing after the wind. As a staff writer for the Yale newspaper put it: this is a student’s “Cry for Help.”
The second story is the recent Gallop study of 2.5 million Americans to determine their “subjective well-being”, which is a euphemism for happiness.
The bottom line of the study is that we aren’t happy, and that there is a disturbing decline in our nation’s sense of well-being. “The overall decline (in 2017) was driven by worsening emotional health, social well-being and purpose well-being.”
I’ve always said Solomon was a pretty smart guy. History bears that out. The above passage from Ecclesiastes 4 really hits it on the head. We all are wired to compete for accomplishments. We aren’t happy coming in second, or third, or even last. We are motivated by comparison to others. Yet, both stories say that this is “chasing after the wind”.
Even if you achieve the accomplishment you always wanted, it is not a ticket to happiness.
Alannah Mayez, a Yale student who put it this way: “In reality, a lot of us are anxious, stressed, unhappy, numb.” She went on to say that many of peers are so tired that they numb their emotions “so they can focus on their work, the next step, the next accomplishment.”
As I read these stories, I can’t resist but saying that one solution may be overlooked, and it’s the spiritual one. When one is grounded spiritually, life’s purpose becomes clearer, and you realize a purpose outside of yourself.
Based on my own experience of becoming a Christian at age 38, life gets better with Christ at the center. As James Emory White notes, “Every life would be better with a deep and clear sense of true north in terms of navigating what’s right and wrong, true and false, good and bad.”
Studies confirm that people are searching for happiness in all the wrong places, and that a quest for money and possessions is unlikely to achieve it. According to Inc. Magazine, 50% of your ability to achieve happiness is hard-wired into your genetics which you can’t change. Only 10% is a result of environment.
On the other hand, 40% is due to “intentional activity” which gets me back to my point on having purpose in your life. To do that, the author suggests three things to focus on.
The first is to align your activity with your values, gifts, talents and passions. Secondly, it suggests that one should do “random acts of kindness.” Third, and not least, is to “count your blessings”. Be grateful for who you are and what life experiences you have had.
Those are good suggestions, particularly for the next generation who have isolated themselves from real relationships due to their digital habits and have increased rates of depression and suicide. No wonder they are interested in finding happiness.
Our challenge with the next generation is to get below the surface and find out what is driving them. Part of that is to find out how developed they are in their spiritual life, and also to help them find their purpose.
God has put them on earth for a purpose – He has gifted each of us with unique talents, gifts, passions and desires for a purpose. It is the role of the older generation to lend a hand in helping the next generation discover their purpose.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: One of the best things a mentor can do is to help a mentee ascertain what God’s purpose is for their lives. A person with a clear vision is usually well centered for dealing with the ups and downs of life.
FURTHER STUDY: A copy of the Psych 157 Course Description: http://catalog.yale.edu/ycps/subjects-of-instruction/psychology/psychology.pdf
The Yale Daily described the Psych 157 course as “It’s a Cry for Help”: https://yaledailynews.com/blog/2018/01/26/overheard-at-yale-its-a-cry-for-help/
The 2017 Gallop Poll on well-being: http://news.gallup.com/poll/224675/gallup-top-findings-2017.aspx
WSJ Article correlating stress and social environment to general health:
An article in Inc. Magazine titled “Looking for Happiness in all the Wrong Places”: https://www.inc.com/marla-tabaka/you-have-a-50/50-shot-at-happiness-according-to-sc.html
WORSHIP: Listen to the song “Sweeter” where the lyrics tell us that “every day with you, Lord, is sweeter than the day before”.
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