Do you want to be happy? Part I
I will confess: I’m a “happiness” junkie.
It’s not entirely my fault, being born with my own particular DNA which makes it impossible for me to live in a depressed state for long. There have been times, however, when I’ve slumped into that “I don’t really care about the world just let me sit on my couch” state of being for one reason or another. During those moments, the sunshiny days of being happy for no particular reason at all seem far, far away. About as far away as the kingdom of Far, Far Away.
My faith, however, always points the way back for me, and happiness is the most amazing gift, given by God. In the book of Philippians He tells us to think about good things, lovely things, true things. It’s good advice — and advice born out by scientific proof, by the way — and it never fails to turn the corner for me. I change what I think about and I change how I feel.
I’ve noticed an upsurge in interest in the field of happiness (or positive psychology) in the bookstores lately. And I am intrigued. I’m always intrigued when scientific inquiry and faith come together like that. The basic premise of the happiness research revolves around the concept of neuroplasticity: that the brain can rewire itself and learn, grow, change. As Christians, we’ve always known this. After all, Romans tells us that our lives can be transformed by the renewing of our minds. God changes us from the inside out. Now science has proven the fact that our brains physically change in response to learning with all sorts of fun studies. One such study focused on London cabbies, who apparently have to carry around an incredibly complex map of their city in their brains, resulting in one area (the hippocampus) which grows larger than the normal person’s hippocampus. I didn’t even know I had one, but apparently mine is not all that spectacular compared to a cabbie’s.
In any event, the big news is this: we can teach our brains to think differently. We can teach ourselves to do what God commanded, and be…happy.
This blog is the first in a series on some of the happiness research and what it means for us in everyday life. There are some concrete ways that we can “think on the things that are lovely and true,” following God’s advice. I think it will be interesting to give ourselves permission to experience happiness, joy, and the peace that passes understanding…no matter what the circumstances around us say.
Incidentally, the way I refocused my thoughts during those blue times and began thinking new thoughts should hardly surprise you. I went to the bookstore. I smelled the lovely smell of new books. I picked some up books half-heartedly, and found myself interested. I went home with a couple to read. A hot tub, a good book and time to read them? Mission accomplished.
So there’s your first principle to finding happiness: change what you are looking at.