This month, I’m taking a break from writing about serious stuff, not because the serious stuff went away but because I need a break from it, and maybe you do too. Besides, I’m writing this column during my vacation.
Summer’s the time when, if you’re lucky (and not everybody is) you might get to have a vacation. If you’re poor, that may not be in the cards, and I think that stinks. It’s worth noting that folks who live in countries in the European Union actually have government-mandated vacation time of at least four weeks each year. Is this some sort of evil socialist plot to turn their industrious citizens into slackers? No. It’s so that people can enjoy their lives. Why can’t all U.S. citizens have the same opportunity?
Of course, many people of faith are already supposed to take a weekly sabbath, not so that they can be more productive on the job but so that they can enjoy being deliciously free human beings giving thanks to God, instead of slaves to their work. How’s that going?
One of the coolest passages in the Bible, Deuteronomy 24:5, actually says that a newly married man doesn’t have to serve in the army for a year, just so he can stay home “to be happy with the wife he has married.” (Leave aside the gender issues for a moment and note the principle here. Even war takes a backseat to happiness. Apparently the Pentagon was not consulted on this policy.)
We want to be happy, and, despite what some religious leaders will tell you, God wants us to be happy. So how can we be happy?
First, disclaimers. One, if you’re going through major loss, horrible illness, or some other terrible stress, feel free to ignore the suggestions here while you grieve. Two, I’m not always happy and I don’t have anything new to say on the subject of happiness. I’m just borrowing from experts.
10 things experts say will make it more likely you’ll be happy.
1. Genetics. Scientists say that some people are just naturally happier than others. I hate this.
2. Regular exercise. Play. Laugh.
3. When we worry, notice it, and then search for and name something to be grateful for — every single time.
4. Get involved in a relatively healthy, supportive/challenging faith community. Notice I said “relatively healthy,” because there is no such thing as a perfect faith community.
5. Worried that you’ll make a bad decision that will haunt you forever? Instead, make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time, and then move forward. Don’t beat up on yourself. And let go of past mistakes. God forgives you. Forgive yourself. As somebody else has suggested, instead of the mournful “If only I had ...” switch to “Next time I will … .”
6. Engage in physical touch with others — handshakes, hugs, etc., without being creepy.
7. What’s the most destructive emotion? Revenge. As the old saying goes, “If you plot revenge, dig two graves.” What’s the healthiest emotion? Gratitude. So create a gratitude journal and try to think of five new things to be grateful for each day.
8. Find a cause worth losing yourself in, something you feel good about investing your time, energy and money in, and then dive in.
9. Succeeded at something? Great. Celebrate the heck out of it. Do a victory lap. But realize the feeling will fade, and most people won’t care. Enjoy your happy time, and then move on. Sadness works the same way. Feel it. Realize it fades. Move on. (If you get stuck in sadness, get professional help.)
10. Don’t settle for optimism. Go for something sturdier — hope — the trust that in the end, God’s love wins. So, no matter what’s happening, we’re invited to a sense of gladness and satisfaction in participating in God’s purposes. It’s called joy.
Like this column? Stick it on the fridge. Hate this column? Take it outside. Burn it and dance around on the ashes.
Either way, you’re bound to feel better.