Are you happy? Apparently you are now able to answer this question scientifically. A recent edition of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) focuses on the topic of happiness (Jan–Feb 2012 issue). Of course their concern is the bottom line. The subtitle on the cover reads, “How Employee Well-Being Drives Profits.” Still, precisely because profits are concerned, I expect the research to be serious and rigorous.
I suspect that most of us have learnt by now that if you pursue happiness, you will never get it. It is an elusive blue bird just always beyond your grasp. We have heard that happiness is something that happens when you are pursuing the right goals in life. So what are the things we should be aiming at that will give us a shot at happiness?
One of the experts quoted in that issue of HBR was Daniel Gilbert, a psychology professor from Harvard, and this is what he said:
If I had to summarize all the scientific literature on the causes of human happiness in one word, that word would be “social.” We are by far the most social species on Earth. Even ants have nothing on us. If I wanted to predict your happiness, and I could only know one thing about you, I wouldn’t want to know your gender, religion, health, or income. I’d want to know about your social network — about your friends and family and the strength of your bonds with them. (Gardiner Morse, “The Science Behind The Smile,” Harvard Business Review January–February 2012, 88.)
I have long suspected that if you give empirical science enough time, they will only confirm what is in the Bible. What Daniel Gilbert said seems to be a much wordier way of saying it is not good for human beings to be alone (Genesis 2:18).
A primary focus of our work at Graceworks is to promote spiritual friendship and so we are always on the lookout for studies that affirm our need for friends as one of the reasons why we also need spiritual friends — friends that journey with us as we follow Christ. The evidence for the importance of friendship is overwhelming. We can’t keep up.
In The Shift, her excellent book on work in the rapidly changing world of the third millennium, Lynda Gratton says that we all need three types of groups to survive and thrive. First, she says, we need a posse, “a small group of people … whom you know that when the going gets tough you can call on and trust to help you.”
Your friendship with the others can go back years; some will work in the same place as you, others will not; some you will see frequently, while others could be in a different country. (Lynda Gratton, The Shift, London, UK: HarperCollins, 2011, 258)
Next, she says we need a big ideas crowd.
They are people in the outer reaches of your network, often a friend of a friend. Completely different from you, yet prepared to make a connection. . . Many of those in your big ideas crowd will be virtual — you link in on Facebook or follow them on Twitter or read their blogs. (Gratton, The Shift, 262.)
The third group that we must have, according to Gratton, is a regenerative community.
Unlike your big ideas crowd, this is not located in cyberspace; and unlike your posse, these are not people who have the same skill sets as you. Your regenerative community is real people whom you meet frequently, with whom you laugh, share a meal, tell stories and relax. They are going to be crucial to your quality of life and emotional well-being. (Gratton, The Shift, 263)
In other words, we need friends.
Preparing for a seminar on spiritual friendship, I revisited Spiritual Friendship by Aelred of Rievaulx, the classic work on the topic. Writing in the 12th century, he says:
A human being without a friend is like a beast: for he lacks someone with whom he can share his joy in prosperity and his sadness in adversity, to whom he may unburden his mind when he is preoccupied, with whom he may talk whenever he has had a particularly sublime or illuminating insight. “Woe to him who is alone, for when he falls he has none to help him to his feet.” The person is completely alone who has no friend. (Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, translated by Mark F. Williams, Scranton, PA: The University of Scranton Press, 1994, 2002, 44.)
If friendship is so critical to human life, we should be very disturbed because loneliness is endemic in modern society.
I have found that the incidence of loneliness in this country (U.S.), and perhaps in the world, is at pandemic proportions. The value of meaningful interpersonal connection in our society is often minimized.
The frenetic pace of modern society and the need to be very financially successful to “just get by ” seems to have eclipsed the importance of having good people in our lives who affirm and support us. Many of us have little or no contact with family members or neighbors. Our work situations may increase our loneliness. Some people say they have forgotten how to connect with others, or perhaps they never learned. (Mary Ellen Copeland, “Are You Lonely?” PsychCentral, https://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/are-you-lonely/all/1/)
So are you happy? We could ask instead, “do you have a few good friends?” Would you count Jesus as one of them (John 15:13-15)? Anyone else?