We all know that the New Year is a good time to evaluate our life and set goals for the year to come. Have you resolved to do anything in 2022? If not, I would encourage you to make one commitment this year that could have a tremendous impact on your own happiness.
With this in mind, take a minute, close your eyes and picture this … an 8 by 8 foot, dirt-floor shack made of sheet metal. No electricity. No running water. And, eight occupants.
I was confronted with this reality on a recent trip to Kenya. The home belonged to Selin, a widow living in the Mathare slum — the third-largest slum in Africa and the sixth largest slum in the world. Selin had taken in 7 orphaned children after her husband passed away. Her biological children had all died from illness before they turned 5. Selin worked hard, earning $2 a day washing clothes to provide for her new family.
Now, take a moment to imagine your home and circumstances. Does your bathroom have running water? Is your refrigerator filled with food? Do you have a car or cars in your driveway? Do you have a mattress, pillow and clean sheets to sleep on? Most likely, you answered yes to all of these questions.
The stark differences in these two living situations should mean vastly different levels of joy and contentment, right? Not necessarily.
Despite little resources, harsh living conditions and much tragedy in her life, Selin seemed quite content when I met her. Her heart was overflowing with compassion and gratitude for her children and her life. On the other hand, most Americans I know are not content, always wanting more, bigger and better. According to a study conducted at The University of Chicago, Americans are more unhappy today than they have been in 50 years. Just 14% of American adults say they are ‘very happy'. COVID-19 is to blame for some of the current discontentment, but not all of it.
As the global director for World Challenge’s Mercy Ministries program, I witness the paradox of people who have little, experiencing joy, happiness and contentment quite frequently. My regular trips overseas to support widows and orphans remind me of the basic needs they have that often go unmet. Yet, this doesn’t seem to impact their joy.
My recent trip to Kenya, got me thinking, “How are those living with less experiencing more joy? What can we do to experience more ourselves? How much is enough for us?” I believe the answer is found both in science and Scripture.
Laurie Santos, a cognitive scientist and professor of psychology at Yale University, said in an interview on the "Today" Show, “We think treating ourselves — self-care — is the way to happiness, but science tells us it’s really about being others-oriented and helping others.” Santos, whose research has been featured in numerous scientific journals, also said that practicing daily gratitude can boost your mood.
Biblical truths found in Scripture communicate a similar message. Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” We also read in Proverbs, “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor” (22:9 NIV). I believe that God commands us to love and help others not only because that’s how his kingdom works but because he understands the joy it brings to those who do so. The revelation is that life is not about what you “have.” Instead, it’s about who you are and what you do.
We see this same truth in Selin’s story as well. When confronted with the death of her husband and children, rather than harbor anger and grief, she decided to help orphaned children living in the slum. This act of kindness gave her purpose and joy.
By all accounts, America is the richest country in the world. However, it seems we are putting our focus on the wrong things — more stuff, nicer things, and ultimately us, us, us. But, in reality, we have much more than we need. So, when will we realize this and shift our focus to helping others? I believe this mentality is the key to a joy-filled life.
As we continue into 2022, I encourage you to set some new resolutions and focus on being other-oriented rather than self- and stuff-focused. If you do, you are bound to experience more contentment and happiness in 2022!
Mark Buzzetta is global director of Mercy Ministries for World Challenge, a global ministry that aims to transform lives through the message and mission of Jesus Christ.