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DeacoNote 30: Happiness X-Factor

Updated: May 15, 2023

May 13, 2023

It seems easier lately to find people, who are feeling overwhelmed by the societal pressures and problems of our day. Some would call it a perfect storm of events and problems, both real and imagined, leading to an increase in worry, anxiety and unease - unhappiness, if you will. Interestingly, a new book by John Clifton, "The Blind Spot - The Global Rise of Unhappiness and How Leaders Missed it," details the results of a recent long term Gallup Poll, that shows, that the Negative Experience Index has been climbing dramatically over the last decade or more. Most recently, we blame COVID, but this data, based on over 5 million interviews worldwide, suggests that global misery has been on the rise, long before any of us ever heard of the nasty coronavirus.

There are, of course, many many causal contributors, when viewed over so many situations, but in an age of analytics a couple of factors stand out in the sea of possibilities.

  • Looking at the 20% of people globally who rate their lives the best, Gallup found among other things, that they all had loved ones they could turn to for help - they experienced a sense of community in their daily life.

  • Looking at the 20% of people globally who rate their lives the worst, Gallup found among other things, that they did not have anyone in their life that they felt they could count on for help in times of trouble - they felt alone.

Each generation faces its own challenges to their well-being.

My father, who fought in World War II, told me that he sold his car at the outbreak of the Korean War, fearing the world war was starting up all over again. My grandfather told me stories of his struggles to find work, housing, and food to raise his young family during the Great Depression. My great-great grandmother wrote a letter to her husband, who was away fighting in the U.S. Civil War. She begged him "not to let them get him," because of the stories she had heard of what happened to soldiers captured by the other side.

My great-great-great grandfather moved his family from Vermont to Pennsylvania. His father had died in the 1814 spotted fever epidemic, that decimated the population of the state. And then, two years later, all of the crops on his small farm died, when Vermont experienced a killing frost every month of the year.

My 8x-great grandparents were among the 102, who left England aboard the ship, Mayflower, in 1620 to escape religious persecution, only to have half of them die the first year in the Plimouth Plantation. How did these people find any happiness in the face of such challenges, and the fear of worse? We explored some clues in our discussion at this morning's Men's Breakfast.

Rev. David O'Brien shared some of the key findings in another long term study conducted at Harvard University and documented in the book, "The Good Life: Lessons from the World's Longest Study on Happiness," by Marc Schulz and Robert Waldinger. They studied two groups of several hundred men from college age through their eighties, analyzing their well-being, and how it was affected by decisions they made along the way. Some were wealthy and privileged, some were poor and impoverished. Some climbed the social ladder, and some fell off of it. At the end of the day, they concluded that happiness depended most on relationships, that is, having someone in their life, on whom they could depend. The book outlined three key findings:

  • First, having social connections is better for our health and well-being - and conversely, loneliness kills.

  • Second, having higher quality close connections is more important for our well-being than the number of connections.

  • Third, having good relationships is not only good for our bodies, but also good for our brains.

See an excerpt of the TED Talk on this study at Interestingly, I recall a class I took years ago for those aspiring to higher more stressful levels of management. A key lesson in that class was to prepare for what they called the "short-sighted" mind. They said that, as people rose into positions of higher stress, many would encounter a day when it all became overwhelming. When that happened, your thinking would become short-sighted. You could easily become disoriented, like John F. Kennedy Jr. flying his plane into the fog bank on Martha's Vineyard in July 1999, and crash, mentally, if not literally. To prepare to survive that day, they recommended you cultivate a life-line relationship ahead of time. Someone you could count on, and most importantly, someone you would listen to in all circumstances. Someone to keep you "grounded." Statistically speaking, the worst thing you could do, was find yourself feeling isolated and fully alone. A few months ago, as part of a music class I was taking, I had to learn a song with a 3/4 time signature. The song I chose was, "Close Every Door," composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. It is from the musical, "Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," in which the part of Joseph was sung by Donny Osmond. The musical tells the Biblical story of Joseph, and the song is Joseph's lament after having been thrown in prison on a false accusation. The lyrics are as follows:

Close every door to me, hide all the world from me Bar all the windows and shut out the light Do what you want with me, hate me and laugh at me Darken my daytime and torture my night. Close every door to me keep those I love from me Children of Israel are never alone.

The children of Israel are never alone is the key thought. It echoes

Genesis 39:2 The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered

Joseph faced a lot of challenges to his well-being - beaten, sold into slavery, prison - and yet, he was not alone, and he did not feel alone. God was with him. That connection, that relationship, made all the difference! Similarly, our connection with God, and our connections / relationships with his people in His church, can be that lifeline for us as well, enabling us to not only survive the crises of life, but to be happy doing it. As David shared with us this morning at our Men's Breakfast:

Matthew 5: 3-10 Jesus said, "Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!
Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them!
Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!
Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully!
Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!
Happy are the pure in heart; for they will see God!
Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children!
Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!

Do you know of anyone who needs a friend? Reach out! Loneliness kills!

Matthew 25:40 The King will reply, "Truly I tell you whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

Amen, Your Brother in Christ, Warren Please also feel free to leave a comment on this DeacoNote, in the comments section below, or share a related thought of your own. Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester

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