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The pursuit of happiness

March 9, 2011 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?’” (Mark 8:34-36)

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, kicking off the Easter season. Lent is a season popularly known for the question “What are you giving up for Lent?” as people vow to go without chocolate, Facebook, or some other craving for the next 46 days. Historically, Lent is supposed to be a time of preparing oneself for Easter through prayer, repentance, fasting, and almsgiving. Basically, Lent is about self-denial, considering ways we can deny ourselves in order to come to a greater appreciation for how Jesus denied Himself, took up His cross, and died for us.

I’ve been reading Tim Keller’s King’s Cross, his meditation on the Gospel of Mark, as part of my preparation for the current series I’m preaching on the last week of Jesus’ life. I’d like wanted to share an interesting study Keller cited for you to consider and meditate on as you think about Lent and self-denial:

“On January 7th, 2007, the New York Times Magazine ran an interesting article called ‘Happiness 101.’ It described positive psychology, a branch of psychology that seeks to take a scientific, empirical approach to what makes people happy. Researchers in this field have found that if you focus on doing things and getting things that give you pleasure, it does not lead to happiness but produces what one researcher has dubbed ‘the hedonic treadmill.’ You become addicted to pleasure, and your need for the pleasure fix keeps growing: You have to do more and more. You’re never really satisfied, never really happy. According to the article, scientific studies have shown that the best way to increase your happiness is actually to do acts of selfless kindness, to pour yourself out for needy people. The main researcher’s goal was to show that ‘there are ways of living that (research shows) lead to better outcomes.’ Some of these better outcomes were ‘close relationships and love,’ ‘well-being,’ and ‘meaning and purpose in life.’

The researcher pointed out that when you are leading an unselfish life of service to other people, it gives you a sense of meaning, of being useful and valuable, of having a life of significance. So, naturally, he argued that you should live this way in order to achieve these ‘better outcomes.’ In other words, he is saying, live a selfless life because it will make you happy – not because you ought to, or because it is moral to do so. In fact, the researcher said, ‘I never use the word morality.’”

Keller has his own skeptical response to this study and the seemingly paradoxical conclusion that we should live unselfishly for selfish reasons. But that aside, the results of the study are still very interesting and worth considering how it applies to our lives, what we are pursuing, and what we are looking to in order to give our lives meaning. I’d be interested to hear what you think as you read the above quote. If you have a thought to share, please share a comment below.

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