If you’ve been following my blog series, “Want Change? Be a L.I.G.H.T.?” then you’ll know that I have still yet to touch on ‘Happiness’. I wanted to post this a month ago; however, I put it on hold because of a trip I made to Haiti. I went there arrogantly thinking that I could teach them a thing or two or help them be…”better”…whatever that means. I was completely humbled. Yes, they are poor. Yes, they need help to fight their poverty and malnutrition issues. But they completely schooled me on what true happiness looks like. They rely so heavily on their personal relationships to just get through life, and having deep relationships is a primary factor in human happiness.
From Bobby McFerrin’s notorious song, “Don’t worry be happy.” The scholars of happiness economics (yes, there is such a thing) believe the major determinants of happiness include[i]:
- GDP and GNP
- Individual income
- Social security – not the fading pot of gold at the end of careers, but the feeling of our personal security and value within a society
- Relationships and children
- Freedom and control
- Religious diversity
Then why do so many around us seem immensely stressed out, fatigued, and unhappy most of the time? As Americans, we live in a country with a good economy (comparatively speaking), the majority of us are considered rich when measured against world standards, we are constantly being bombarded with programs and messages of our self-worth and self-importance (for the most part…I know there are exceptions), employment is much better here than in many other countries, we have freedom for the most part to live our lives how we wish, we certainly have religious diversity, and most Americans are privileged to have multiple available outlets for leisure.
What I think is missing is the relationships and health attributes. Building personal relationships with people today is extraordinarily difficult. Most people don’t want to be bothered anymore, or so they think, with actually picking up the phone to make a phone call instead of texting or Facebooking (Facebooking…is that a word?). Or…wait for it…speaking face-to-face (insert <gasp>). Even our dating habits have changed. People are now looking for their spouses via online dating services instead of meeting them at places of mutual interest or during activities that both enjoy. But I think if we <em “mso-bidi-font-style:=”” normal”=””>intentionally break our habits and start to move back to building stronger personal relationships, we’d find ourselves feeling much more valued and therefore much happier. And in regards to health, happier tends to lean towards healthier. Happier people are less likely to overeat, take drugs, and skip the gym. In return, healthier people are happier. So, in this ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg’ conundrum, where do we start to break the unhealthy-unhappy catch 22 cycle?
In one independent study ranking the top 20 happiest countries in the world, the United States, ranked 16th. Yikes! With our GDP and GNP at levels leaps and bounds over some of the countries that came in ahead of us, and with Prozac and Xanax floating around like Tic Tacs, how can this possibly be? Well, the study was based on life satisfaction, flourishing, social connection, loneliness, and perceived stress. Under life satisfaction, where the subjects ranked their overall life satisfaction, the US didn’t even make the top 10. Under flourishing, where the subjects assessed “well-being across a range of domains, including self-esteem, meaning and purpose, relationship functioning, and optimism,” the US came in at #6. And again, under loneliness and perceived stress where the top rated countries felt the least lonely and had the least amount of perceived stress, the US didn’t even make the top 10 list.[ii] So what’s that say about us as a country? It implies that we like our independent achievements and take for granted our social connections.
According to another study from Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Steven W. Cole of the UCLA School of Medicine, there are two types of happiness. The short-lived happiness and then the deeper, lasting happiness. Eating Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups with a pint of ice cream followed by a glass of wine would be an example of short-lived happiness. Just thinking about it makes me smile. But activities like helping others, volunteering, and contributing to a social cause are just a few examples that exemplify the long-lasting and deeper type of happiness. And it’s this type of happiness that will lead to a greater life satisfaction, feelings of appreciation and of being needed, and less feelings of loneliness. Physically, it’s also this type of happiness that lead to healthier bodies.[iii]
Going back to the first study, it appears the US is enjoying a whole lot of peanut butter cup ice cream but is severely lacking the more important happy filled moments. Maybe this is why the use of antidepressants in America has soared over the past decade. We’ve switched our focus from family, friends, and communities to independent success, hipster single living, and online social communities where one can live out their imaginary, ideal life. I mean come on, Facebook is now in the dictionary![iv] It all started with ‘Tom’, our first shaggy-hair, white tee shirt wearing online friend that we never met from My Space. Since then, it’s been a race to see who has the largest online community of faux friends.
It’s sad, but a reality in my world as well, that we spend more time looking down at our phones commenting on the pictures of the dinners our friends are eating than actually going to dinner with them. It’s sad to think that there once was a time that when asked to describe a friend, most people could tell you the color of their friend’s eyes. Now, we’re satisfied to be able to simply confirm that our friend actually has eyes. I sometimes actually long for the ability to go out for a night with a close friend or loved one without bringing my phone with me. I am sometimes tempted to deactivate my Facebook account because of its time sucking useless (mostly) information overload. Anybody with me on this?
I think our bodies are built for social connection, and I mean the real social connection, not online social media ‘likes’ and ‘shares.’ But I’m not the only one who feels this way. There are libraries across the world filled with books, journals, studies, and articles that backup Abraham Maslow’s 3rd tier of ‘Belong/Feeling Loved’ on his famous Hierarchy of Needs pyramid.[v] We’re built for it. We need it to survive. But we deny ourselves what we need most every time we choose the phone, tablet, or laptop over face-to-face human interaction. In essence, we’re making ourselves unhappy, and we have nobody to blame but ourselves.
The people of Haiti really do need our assistance to help eradicate poverty and malnutrition, but they don’t need us to just drop off money, food, clothes, and supplies and then jet back to the States. They need us. They need our presence. They need us to be in relationship with them, to teach them how to thrive by utilizing their God-given gifts and talents. Just watch them do life with one another, and you’ll learn how their ways of relationship building can teach us a thing or two on how to be happy even under the most extreme circumstances.
This post was first seen here and was reposted with permission from its author, Ally Charriez. Ally traveled to Haiti with Gateway Church which partners with CPR-3.
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