Americans' Search for Happiness

It has been said that there are two things to be true of every person: we all want to be happy and we're all going to die, said one pastor and evangelist.

Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., is leading his megachurch on a series of "happiness" sermons to start the new year on an optimistic foot.

But what makes the American people happy?

In Texas, mothers listed socializing, praying, sex and television at the top of their happiness list, according to ABC News. Parenting was ranked similarly with house work.

In recent years, research has found that churchgoers, pastors, married people and those in higher income households are most likely to be happy with their lives than others. And while a Gallup poll earlier this month found a full 84 percent of Americans say they are satisfied with their personal lives, happiness has gone down over the decades.

"Americans are less happy today than they were 30 years ago because they're working so hard at being happy," said Laurie in a recent sermon.

Many look toward the future for happiness, hoping "someday" they'll meet that perfect person, win the lottery or retire, Laurie said. That leaves the majority of Americans just enduring the present while waiting for something better to happen.

Happiness, in a general sense, is associated with things happening, Laurie defined.

"When things are going well, we are relatively happy people. When things are not going well, our happiness dissipates," he said as he listed accomplishments, accumulation and escape as part of the "things happening."

But those are all short-lived pleasures, as Laurie described.

Some of the major myths and misconceptions about happiness include the belief that money gives satisfaction – despite what polls have indicated – or that the best job in the world brings happiness.

"Having a fulfilling, meaningful life and being happy doesn't have to do with what we have," said Theyer Willis author of Navigating the Dark Side of Wealth and heir to the Georgia-Pacific Timber fortune, according to ABC. "It has to do with how we live our lives."

Sean Aiken, who is attempting to work 52 jobs in 52 weeks in a yearlong quest to find his bliss, found that it's not what you do that makes you happy.

"I have realized that you could have the best or worst job in the world, it is the people you work with that are going to make it a positive or negative work environment," Aiken told ABC.

So what's the source of happiness?

According to University of California Pscyhology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, half of a person's happiness comes from genes; life's circumstances (where you live, how much money you make, how you look) accounts for only 10 percent; and 40 percent can be controlled by what you think, your outlook on life and the intentional activities you choose to engage in, she told ABC.

Harvest pastor Laurie, meanwhile, pointed to one of author C.S. Lewis' famed insights:

"That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing."

"Our objective is to walk with God," said Laurie to his mega congregation, "not looking at the passing happiness ... but the joy that remains despite what you're going through – the joy that comes from a relationship with God."