At our worship experience in Monroe last Sunday, I had to opportunity to walk through the Beatitudes with people in our faith community. We talked about the difference between the EMOTION of happiness and the REALITY of blessedness. If you would like to see a text of the message, check it out on my personal blog. Click here and you can review the text.
As a means of following up on that talk I decided to talk about the importance of happiness and how there are insights that encourage us in our journey toward positive feelings and emotions. Make no mistake about it, happiness is important. Your emotions are a gift from God…it’s true! You might not FEEL like they are but trust me when I say that your emotions are part of the “imago Dei” (God’s image in the world). Take a stroll through scripture sometime and underline or not the emotions that God “feels” throughout the narrative. The great God we worship and serve has revealed in the context of our human story HIS emotions. The difference is is that God is not controlled by emotions but by His nature and character. The same is true for us (which is why I said what I said on Sunday, November 2nd about the reality of blessedness).
Your feelings help you navigate life – they are in many respects a reaction to the circumstances you face. They are “flags” to give you an indication of your awareness in the moment. They are a sign to you that you are fully engaged in life. You see, all those things are positive. You and me NEED TO BE ENGAGED IN LIFE and we need to understand that are feelings are signs that we are alive! Again, that’s good. So let’s not start out hammering the fact that we have feelings because God gave us the gift of feelings. Your feelings are reactions to the stimuli of life. NOW the issue is, how do your reactions (which are momentary and fleeting) become responses (something you choose to retain and experience continually)?
Feelings of happiness (or rather “well-being) are NOT necessarily characterized just by a buoyant mood, merriment, good cheer and smiling. Happiness isn’t a big smiley face sticker that you post on your business card, your refrigerator or on the dashboard of your car. Happiness, and I’m quoting here from one of the “fathers” of positive psychology, Marty Seligman,
“Happiness could be analyzed into three different elements – positive emotion, engagement and meaning. Each of these elements is better defined and more measurable than happiness. The first is positive emotion; what we feel: pleasure, rapture, ecstasy, warmth, comfort and the like. The second element, engagement, is about flow: being one with the music, time stopping, and the loss of self-consciousness during an absorbing activity. There are no shortcuts to “flow.” This is the realm where you deploy your highest strengths and talents to meet the world. When you engage the world from the foundation of your strengths, positive emotion will result. There is a third element of happiness, which is meaning. The pursuit of engagement and pleasure are often solitary, solipsistic (belief in self as total reality) endeavors. Human beings want meaning and purpose in life. A Meaningful life consists of belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self.” Seligman’s book, Flourish
I think it is important to view each of these realities in your personal pursuit of happiness in your life. Positive emotion is tough to maintain…why? Because we often live our lives in reaction to circumstances. Positive emotions, thus, are the “carrots at the end of the sticks” when the sticks seem to hard to reach. That’s why “well-being” or happiness depends on you understanding the other realities Seligman articulates. Because ONCE you understand your character strengths and “lean into” those strengths and ONCE you have aligned yourself with purpose and meaning in life (which is obviously a “no-brainer” for a Jesus follower), happiness comes as a result.
Let me state it this way…many of us spend countless hours, days even years trying to negotiate our past hurts. We want “fixes” to our problems. You know what? Most counselors these days actually admit that you or me may NEVER be able to fix our problems. We can understand them and choose to respond to them in a healthier manner but its difficult to extricate an experience from our lives because of the complexities of the human heart and our memories. That’s why happiness is a choice in many respects. Instead of reacting to situation and circumstances (where you only react in ways you have conditioned yourself over time, usually emotionally) you CHOOSE to respond accordingly. In other words, you can choose how you respond to life’s circumstances. That choice can actually LEAD you to happiness. Here’s an example – say you have a conversation with someone where they say something that hurts your feelings. In that moment you can react in anger (as most of us usually would) OR you can choose to stop a moment, attempt to understand the situation that is occurring a bit more intentionally (maybe the words that hurt are more indicative of the pain that the person who SPOKE them feels) and you can choose something other than anger. Emotional choice in response to life is a HUGE factor in your happiness.
One more thing – once you understand your character strengths, you can make choices where you engage the world understanding that people will get the BEST of you when you are utilizing your strengths. In other words, once you understand WHO YOU ARE you can view your life from a different perspective and choose to communicate to yourself and to others that you will experience the BEST OF YOU when you are engaged in activities and relationships that underscore your strengths. One way for you to discover your character strengths is to take a survey – it’s free and it will give you a print out of five of your key personal strengths that you can see active in your life. Seligman’s thesis is this – if you live out of your strengths you will discover more and more personal life fulfillment and positive emotion. So, check that out by clicking HERE! Wow, that’s it for now!