Max Lucado: We live in an advanced culture, so why are we so unhappy?

Max Lucado speaks at the launch of his latest book, 'Unshakable Hope.' | (PHOTO: EDWARD SHIH)

Author Max Lucado offered words of wisdom about happiness, stressing that the best way to become happy is to give encouragement.

In a Monday discussion at the Museum of the Bible, Lucado sat down with National Community Church Pastor Mark Batterson to explore the nature of happiness. Lucado's latest book is called How Happiness Happens.

During a summer sermon series the author stumbled upon some statistics about happiness that whet his appetite for exploring the subject — a Harris survey showing that only one in three Americans considers themselves to be happy. In light of this discovery he continued to research the topic and found several other pieces of corresponding data.

"How could this be? We've never lived in a more advanced culture. We've never lived in a society that has more technological advances, and I know we're far from perfect ... but there's a lot of things to be grateful for," Lucado said.

It dawned on him that the focus of his sermon series, which was on the "one another" verses in Scripture, were the "secret sauce" of happiness. He recalled the words of Jesus where he said that "it was better to give than receive" and how he had seen that to be true. As he gave, his spirit was lifted, and he was happier. A self-centered life, by contrast, yields sadness, he continued.

Asked why he thinks happiness is so hard to find, he replied: "Unique to our day and age, unique to our generation, unique especially to our society, is this literal bombardment of marketing that seeks to tell me I'm unhappy in order that I'll make a purchase that will make me happy, which eventually does not make me happy, which disappoints me, which then makes me think I need to try all again. It's this cycle."

"For example, I didn't know that I should be self-conscious about having a bald spot until the television commercial told me I shouldn't have a bald spot," the author said, receiving laughs from the crowd.

He soon found himself looking in the mirror.

"The counterintuitive message of Christ is that happiness happens not when you accumulate but when you share. Happiness happens not when you have more, but when you give more.

"The true, lasting happiness that no one can take away from you happens when you give it away."

He defined happiness as a "deeply rooted sense of contentment that does not depend upon circumstances."

Joining the conversation, author John Maxwell argued that there is a difference between success and significance. Success is about what one has done and accomplished. Significance is about others.

"It's impossible to be selfish and significant at the same time," Maxwell said, adding that it is impossible to be happy and selfish simultaneously.

Lucado made a point to say that at times people do need professional help to deal with the sufferings of life.

The invitation of Jesus is to do as he did to serve and not be served and give his life as a ransom, the author elaborated.

"I think God wants us to be happy," Lucado said. "I think we have a moral obligation to be happy.

"The church has a much better testimony if they are people of contagious kindness."

Lucado's latest book centers on the approximately 50 "one another" verses in the Bible, and that Jesus was the best encourager.

In the healthiest of homes there are five positive comments for every negative one, he noted.

"If you want to encourage somebody you are taking on a divine role their lives," he said, noting that a name for the holy spirit is Paraclete, which means to come alongside.

"The best way to be encouraged is to give encouragement. You want to be happy tomorrow? Make somebody happy today," he said.

Asked during the Q&A if certain personalities are more attuned for experiencing happiness, he responded that there is no doubt that is the case.

"Some people are more reflective maybe even melancholic. Some people are more outgoing, more positive. I think it's more of a challenge for others than it is for some. And the last thing I would want to do is for somebody to feel bad about feeling unhappy."

"Be kind to yourself," he said. "If you come out of a certain personality group or type. It could be that it's going to be a little more difficult for you, but you have advantages that others don't ... all of us can make progress in this area."

Max Lucado is a bestselling author and the longtime teaching minister at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas.

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