Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor

Morgan Park

 Baptist Church

11024 S. Bell Avenue 

Chicago, IL 60643


​Reflection September 9, 2018

The Happiness Project by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth

      This past Sunday, September 9, I concluded our 13-part sermon series based on Dr. Jordon Peterson’s bestselling, 12 Rules for Life, coupled with Jesus’ teachings from the Gospels. As I mentioned Sunday, I received a significant amount of positive feedback on this series. Because of this feedback, I’ve decided to begin a new series based upon another #1 bestseller, The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. The subtitle of this book is: Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean my Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. Sounds like a book from which we might all be able to learn valuable lessons!

     Happiness is fleeting and not always easily found. This is a self-evident truth. But I believe there are ways that we can “place ourselves” in the path of happiness. This new series of sermons will explore ways we can be at least a little happier.

     More than once I’d preached that it’s more important to seek meaning than to seek happiness. I still agree with this assessment but there has been a serious amount of recent research exploring the psychological/spiritual/physical dimensions of happiness and positive psychology. After all who doesn’t want to be happier?

     This new series starts Sunday, September 23. I’d like to highly recommend this series - even though I don’t yet have much of it formulated. I moved towards exploring happiness because of something I read in an August  edition of The Week. “According to a recent survey by the American College Health Association, 52 percent of (college) students reported feeling hopeless, while 39 percent suffered from such severe depression that they found it difficult to function at some point during the previous year.”

     This is incredibly alarming. I’ve worked many years with college students; for seven years in Louisiana and 12 years teaching at Moraine Valley Community College. We need to help our young deal with these feelings of hopelessness and severe depression. Something, obviously, is amiss!

     Together as a congregation we’ll plunge headlong into the issue of happiness. It’s my hope that as we walk through this new series, we’ll discover life truths and ways for increasing our own personal happiness (mine included)!

     Many of us mistakenly assume that our happiness is largely determined by our circumstances: believing happiness will come with a better job, a more attractive/smarter/loving/agreeable spouse, brilliant children, lots of financial success, a fitter, leaner, body). But it’s been discovered that roughly 50% of our happiness is determined by our genes (which, of course, lies outside our control), 40% of our happiness is determined by our thoughts, actions, and attitudes, and roughly 10% of our happiness depends upon the circumstances of our lives.

     So one’s life-circumstances don’t matter greatly unless one is lacking basic needs or if one is in an abusive relationship. Together we will explore these connections as we move through this new series. We’ll examine such realities as “time-famine” from which many of us suffer. Consider inviting family and friends to this new and important series on happiness: where to seek it and how to find more of it!

     Sunday was the conclusion of Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. I’d like to “fill-out” this week’s Advance by briefly relating some of Sunday’s sermon (available as a post on my Facebook page and on our church’s Facebook page).

     We, humans, have been shown in research to be two things: 1) we are social and 2) we are anti-social. We are social because we like the members of our own group. We are anti-social because we don’t like the members of other groups. We see this inherent dynamic writ large in our religious disputes and political landscape.

     How do we move forward after witnessing the human brutality littering our human history? Thinking alone may not be the answer.

     As Dr. Peterson writes: “Something supersedes thinking, despite thinking’s awesome power. When existence (when life) reveals itself as intolerable and truly terrible, thinking collapses in on itself. It’s NOTICING, not thinking, that helps us survive. Perhaps you might start by noticing this: when you love someone, it’s not despite their limitations, it’s because of their limitations.” (slightly edited)

     I believe God is more properly spoken of as a journey rather than as a destination. We move in God. We move with God when we seek to expand our horizons by learning more and more. We need to realize how little we really know. Then we’ll no longer have to foolishly battle over what we think we know. We can relax our death grip on being right. Too many of us cling to our tiny truths and battle endlessly over scrapes.

     Many proclaim that the Flood is coming, the End is coming! But the Flood is always coming, the End is always coming! The Apocalypse is always already upon us so we should chill out!

     Nothing is going so badly that it can’t be made worse. There are endless reasons to despair of the world, to become angry and resentful. Life is hard enough when it is going well! We need to help each other when the going gets rough. This is what church is for!

     Peterson concludes his book with this truth: It is my firm belief that the best way to fix the world is to fix yourself. Sacrifices must be made. Truths must be sought and lived. Otherwise life becomes too painful to live. Each of us, like Jesus, must stand tall before any and all and utter our broken, but still sacred, truths.