A typical greeting card includes an imparted wish for happiness in the coming year. Many people, though, don’t know how to be happy. Every year they tramp along in the same old rutted road of self-pity and discontent. But it doesn’t have to be this way. According to researcher Dr. Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness, the happiest people share four characteristics, all of which a person may acquire.
1. The Happiest People Lose Themselves in Everyday Activities. Unhappy people look for joy in life’s big events—Christmastime, hunting season, vacations, graduations, weddings, promotions. Happy people enjoy these special events too, of course, but they also find great pleasure in everyday things such as gardening, taking a walk, working, eating a nourishing meal, or watching a beautiful sunset. Paul urges the church to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18).
2. The Happiest People Content Themselves with the Lifestyle They Can Afford. Trying to keep up with the neighbors is stressful and unsatisfying. It’s stressful because the Joneses are probably drowning in a pool of debt. It’s unsatisfying because they are continually buying the latest new thing. We can never catch up with the neighbors and relax. Worst of all, materialism has grim consequences. It hampers generous giving (2 Cor. 9:6), threatens faith (1 Tim. 6:17), and even imperils salvation (vs. 9-10).
3. The Happiest People Surround Themselves with Friends and Family. Unhappy people think of the holiday season as a time to receive, a time to indulge themselves. Happy people, on the other hand, cherish the holidays as an opportunity to spend time with loved ones. They realize that possessing all the material things in the world would be utterly meaningless without someone to share them with.
4. The Happiest People Are Forgiving. Unhappy people hold grudges. They cannot enjoy the company of those who have offended them (and, of course, perfect friends and relatives don’t exist). Happy people let go of their anger (Eph. 4:26). They find joy by obeying the biblical instruction to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving (v. 32).