Reflection September 23, 2018
"On Happiness" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
This past Sunday, September 23, I began a new 12-part series of sermons based on the #1 New York Times bestseller, The Happiness Project, written by Gretchen Rubin. This sermon can be found on my personal Facebook page as well as our church Facebook page (under “posts.”)
I wish to add a few thoughts from my sermon in this week’s Advance along with additional reflections. Our brains, of course, determine a lot of our happiness. But our brains are essentially programmed by evolution against happiness. Happiness doesn’t matter all that much to our brains. Our brains have evolved to look for, to seek out, actual and potential dangers/problems. Our brains want to keep us alive! Keeping us alive is their main function.
When our brains see a problem, see a danger, we are then motivated to fix that problem so we can then move on to the next problem. We are, by nature, somewhat paranoid. Being somewhat paranoid doesn’t easily lend itself to happiness.
Gretchen Rubin, a lawyer by training and an author by desire, was riding on a New York City bus one day when she had a revelation. She asked herself: “What do I want from life anyway?” Her answer: “I want to be happy!” But she had never thought much about what made her happy or how she might become happier. She was haunted by the words of the writer Colette: “What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.”
Rubin grasped two truths on that bus: 1) she wasn’t as happy as she could be and 2) her life wasn’t going to change unless she made it change. She decided right then to dedicate a year to trying to be happier.
Who among us wouldn’t like to be happier? I personally feel relatively content but I wouldn’t say I’m all that happy. There have been times when I experienced true happiness but those times have been few and relatively far between. So that is one of the reasons I’m now working my way through Rubin’s book. I promise to take seriously what it reveals. I invite all of us bonded to our beloved church to do the same.
Everyone is born with a set-point for happiness. But this set-point can be moved some. Aristotle argued that happiness is the summum bonum, the supreme good. We all want to be happy. Happiness is the chief hope we have for our children and our grandchildren. We should understand that the opposite of happiness is unhappiness. It is not the condition of depression, which needs serious intervention.
Rubin tosses out a few important rules for life: 1) Be nice to everyone; 2) You can’t be good at everything; 3) If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough; 4) Never start a sentence with the words “No offense, but…”
Working for a paycheck is part of our survival mode. Working to be happier is a worthy life goal. In one of my favorite movies, The Last Samurai, the title character notes that “to find the perfect cherry blossom would not be a wasted life.”
Research shows that happy people are more giving, more productive, more helpful, more likable, more creative, more resilient, friendlier, and healthier. Happy people make better friends, better colleagues, and better citizens. I want to be happier. At times I feel I’m in the process of becoming a “curmudgeon.” My friend, Vinal, is doing all she can to prevent this but I feel the pull of this common condition of aging!
Rubin spend the first month of her year-long project trying to “Boost Energy.” Feeling tired makes everything in our lives more arduous. I’ve struggled with significant sleep issues over many decades. I’ve read much of the research and suggestions as well as consulted with a number of “sleep” doctors.
A poor night of sleep impacts everyone’s daily mood. Rubin decided to go to bed at least an hour earlier every night. I’m in the process of trying to do this as well. Midnight has been my normal time for retiring. I’ll do my best to make it 11 PM instead. A recent study suggested that getting one extra hour of sleep each night did more for a person’s daily happiness than getting a $60,000 raise! (Someone after the Sunday service said he’d rather have the $60,000 raise!)
After a week or so of more sleep, Rubin began to feel a real difference in the way she felt. She didn’t feel the need to take a nap in the afternoon. So I’ll try this myself - and maybe a few members of our beloved congregation can try it as well!
Rubin also began to exercise better. It’s well known that people who exercise are healthier, think more clearly, sleep better, and delay the onset of old-age dementia. A recent study showed 25% of all Americans don’t get any exercise at all. Just by exercising 20 minutes, 3 days a week, tired people will boost their energy. Perhaps we can participate again in Memorial Day’s Ridge Run?
It was suggested that light deprivation is one of the major reasons people feel tired. Just 15 minutes of daily daylight stimulates the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Most anti-depressant medications work by increasing serotonin but so does walking in the daylight! And, yes, we need to be outside for this effect to occur!
Rubin also worked on getting her possessions in order. People are finding their possessions unmanageable. The number of storage units has doubled over the past ten years. I’m so grateful that my friend, Vinal, helped me organize the chaos in my basement. Together we got rid of half of all the stuff stored there. Now I smile every time I go into my basement!
The Irish poet, Yeats, wrote: “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure, not this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” We offer various opportunities for growth at our beloved church, such as our every other week Bible Study. But there are many ways to grow!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643