Scripture: Psalm 139; Luke 15:4-24; John 15; 10, 11; Hebrews 11:16.
What makes us happy? That is the question at the center of the most comprehensive and perhaps longest running research study in history. Begun in 1937 with healthy, well-adjusted Harvard male sophomores as subjects, 70 years later about half are still participating. They all are in their 80’s.
The research design was originally conceived by a Harvard physician, Arlie Bock. Referred to as the Grant Study, it was so named for the one who funded the study for the first decade, W. T. Grant of department store fame.1
The study’s longtime director is psychiatrist Dr. George Vaillant. He recently shared in an Atlantic video insights into what he has learned from the Grant Study men. “1) Happiness isn’t about me; 2) happiness is a process that happens over a lifetime; 3) happiness isn’t keeping up with the Jones’; 4) happiness is playing and working and loving and loving is probably the most important.” 2
Whether the study subjects came to the same conclusions or this video summary is Vaillant’s own interpretation from his involvement in it is not clear. One thing is clear. Being connected to Jesus was not one of the findings in Vaillant’s video summary.
The fact that joy and happiness hold different meaning is a theme in this week’s Bible lesson in our study of the Fruits of the Spirit. The lesson author suggests that happiness is the result of favorable circumstances, which as Vaillant did point out happens here and there over a lifetime. We will not always be happy. Life in a sin sick world can be painful.
In contrast we can learn to be joyful always. Joy is not a focus on self resulting in a light-hearted feeling. Rather joy comes from knowing and trusting God which allows us to rise above any difficult or unhappy circumstance in our life.
In his book The Fruits of the Spirit: It’s What You Are That Counts, Richard W. O’Ffill suggests that we can be “down, but not out”. He discovered that the word happiness appears 25 times in Scripture while the word joy is used 155 times. In his in-depth study of these two words used in the Bible’s Old and New Testament he found that happiness comes about because of something that has occurred where as joy happens in spite of something. Happiness depends on circumstances but joy is independent of all circumstances and situations. 3
Happiness comes and goes. Joy is a state of mind, the outward sign of an inward experience of one who has the Spirit of Christ within.