It’s the standard New Year’s greeting, isn’t it? We wish each other a happy new year. But what makes us happy? What would have to happen for all those greetings and good wishes to come true?
I watched a documentary yesterday afternoon about that very thing, and what the experts say is that 50 percent of our happiness is genetic, another 10 percent is a function of circumstances (income, health, social status), and the final 40 percent is up to us.
So, what can we do to be happy?
- Well, we can exercise. Apparently that releases dopamine into our brains and dopamine makes us dopey, I mean, happy. So, do something today that gets your heart rate up a little bit, that makes you breathe a little harder. Don’t go crazy, just go for a walk. It will help make you happier.
- Do something you love, something that focuses your full attention and calls forth your best effort until you lose yourself in the experience. Playing a musical instrument can do this, or cooking a big meal, or painting a picture. Getting in the “flow” of that kind of experience can make you happy.
- Spend time with family and friends. It sounds sort of obvious, but that’s one of the things that makes us happiest. Of course, if you’ve just done that over the holidays, you also know that when your family finally goes home it can make you happy (smile). But only for a little while.
- Do something for somebody else. Again, this is something that gets you outside yourself. It’s when our thoughts turn inward that we can become most depressed, but doing something for somebody else focuses our thoughts outward, on them, and suddenly we find ourselves smiling again.
I haven’t finished watching the documentary, actually, but these are some of the things I learned yesterday and wanted to pass along to you. And as I think about KOH2RVA—our year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia—I think much of what makes us happy can be found in that mission.
For example, let’s say that you decide to bring heaven to earth for someone in Richmond by helping them get into their own house. So you volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, and one Saturday not long from now you find yourself swinging a hammer with some friends from church or work. You’re breathing a little harder. Your heart rate is up. But you’re doing good work and you can feel it. You’re swinging the hammer well, the nails are going in straight and true, and you finish each one with a satisfying “bang.” As you work you talk and laugh with your friends, and when the new owners of the house come by to see how things are going they tell you how excited and happy they are about the idea of finally having a home of their own, and it makes you feel good.
It makes you happy.
The people who have gotten most deeply involved in KOH2RVA this year are also telling me that it’s giving them joy. You can see it on their faces. The more they bring heaven to earth for others the more they seem to bring it to earth for themselves.
So, you want to have a happy new year? Get off the bus. Get onto the mission field. Find your place on this year-long, every-member mission trip and find your way of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.
You’ll be happy you did.