Do you want this next year to be happier than the last? A first century letter written in prison by the Apostle Paul to the Philippian Christians has much advice on how to know true joy, and much of it was confirmed in May, 2015 by a major study released by the Mayo Clinic.
The study said that happier people are healthier people. That's why the Mayo Clinic studied the issue of happiness in the first place.
After its release, CBS New York reported on this study: "After decades of studying and working with tens of thousands of patients, researchers at the Mayo Clinic say they've cracked the code to being happy."
And the answer is what? More money? Bigger car? More stuff? Fame?
Long before he was a presidential candidate, Donald Trump once quipped, "Whoever says money can't buy happiness doesn't know where to shop."
The article reported: "Psychiatrist John Tamerin says for many people the root of everything we're chasing, a better job, more money or true love, is happiness. But this endless pursuit often backfires. If you lead your life always waiting for a great thing to happen, you probably will be unhappy."
The Mayo Clinic summarizes their findings, thusly:
"People who are happy seem to intuitively know that their happiness is the sum of their life choices, and their lives are built on the following pillars:
• Devoting time to family and friends
• Appreciating what they have
• Maintaining an optimistic outlook
• Feeling a sense of purpose
• Living in the moment."
Paul's letter to the Philippians directly or indirectly addresses all these things: Relationships. An attitude of gratitude. A positive outlook. A sense of purpose. Living now and not letting the past cripple your present or future.
The Mayo study tells us to "Invest in relationships." Yet, as I write these words, I see there's a new report that some will be seeking companionship — from robots. Human beings are made in the image of God. That is not true of man-made machines.
The study reports that self-focus is one of the great obstacles to human happiness.
Paul told the Philippians, "in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus ...."
I have had the privilege of regularly participating in a food distribution ministry. No matter how blue I may possibly be going into it, my feelings are uplifted after helping others in need in the name of Jesus Christ.
The study found that complaining will not make you happy. Paul said, "do everything without grumbling." He also said that he had learned to be content in all circumstances. He added, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." How is that for a positive outlook?
As to purpose for living, Paul says, "For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain."
The Mayo Clinic study on happiness said we need to forget negative things and "liv[e] in the moment."
Paul said as much in Philippians 3: "… this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
Forgetting the things behind us — the past that we cannot undo, but for which we can be forgiven if we would ask God for forgiveness — makes us more resilient and more positive in our outlook.
The Mayo Clinic study also recommended focusing on positive things.
That's just like Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think on these things."
In the same chapter, Paul also talks about choosing to give thanks to the Lord. He says, "Rejoice in the Lord, always. Again, I say, rejoice."
In a sense, we could say Philippians is the answer as to how to be happy.
Isn't it interesting that the Mayo Clinic study and all the thousands of dollars spent in research, dealing with thousands of clients, finds that if you want to be happy, focus on others, and put their interest before your own — just what Paul told the Philippians.
When Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive, who would have thought that that is literally true? Forgetting what is behind, cultivating a thankful heart, living on purpose, thinking on good things, and caring about others are key precepts to a truly happy new year.
Happy New Year.