the secret to happiness

According to Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert, here is the secret of happiness:

1. Accrue wealth, power, and prestige. Then lose it.
2. Spend as much of your life in prison as you possibly can.
3. Make someone else really, really rich.
4. Never ever join The Beatles.

Interested in more? Check the video below. It runs about 21 minutes.

For Christians (and everyone else for that matter), I think the research that Gilbert presents here is important. He presents two kinds of happiness: “synthesized happiness” and “natural happiness.” Synthesized happiness is happiness that we create in our minds when we don’t get or can’t have what we want. Natural happiness is happiness we have when we get what we want. And we think that natural happiness is far superior to synthesized happiness. Gilbert points out that our consumption-driven economy depends greatly on our continuing to think that way. But in reality, synthesized happiness is at least as powerful and true, if not more so. This is the sort of happiness possessed by people who have been through tragedy, suffering, and hardship but remain happy.

The apostle Paul seems to relate this sort of happiness throughout his difficulties. A couple of examples are in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 and in 6:3-10 where he refers to himself and his companions as continuing in aliveness and joy despite having to survive incredible obstacles and hardships. His most astute reflection on this is in 12:6-10, in which he refers to a “thorn in my flesh.” He pleads with Christ to take this affliction away (what it was exactly we don’t know, scholars continue to debate it). That prayer being answered would be the “natural happiness” of thinking getting what we want will make us happy. But Jesus does not take it away, instead teaching Paul a lesson that enables him to achieve “synthesized happiness”: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'”

Happiness grows in the soil of constraint—having to find the happiness in where you are, who you’re with, and what you’ve got. Misery grows in the soil of too much freedom to get what you want—searching for happiness in what and who and where you think you want. Paul was constrained by Christ and the mission Christ set before him, but discovered that was where happiness was truly to be found.

Where have you and I found true happiness? When will we give up demanding “natural happiness” and embrace the reality of “synthesized happiness” that comes from things like faith, discipleship, morality, mission, and covenant?

time perspective

I mentioned a part of this presentation from Dr. Philip Zimbardo this morning in church. For anyone interested, the clip below is a roughly 10 minute animated synopsis of a talk from Dr. Zimbardo at the RSA on the psychology of time perspective. I’ve watched this one several times, and the full lecture from which it is drawn. Interesting stuff, but then I’m also a nerd.

Since it’s one of my primary filters, I couldn’t help but wonder how this might inform both our understanding of conversion and therefore our evangelistic efforts, and our Christian formation as disciples of Jesus.

what really motivates us?

I recently finished Daniel Pink’s latest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In Drive, Pink marshalls an impressive case from social psychology and behavioral studies that better performance is not attained by means of the old “carrot and stick” method of rewards promised and punishments threatened. The effectiveness of the “carrot and stick” or “reward and punishment” approach, which Pink calls “Motivation 2.0,” is incredibly limited. Studies demonstrate that the range of effectiveness at motivating people to better performance using rewards is restricted to very rudimentary, routine tasks. And somewhat surprisingly, when even a little creativity or basic thinking is required, rewards—yes, rewards—are detrimental to improved performance.

In turns out, extrinsic motivation has a ceiling, and a surprising one at that. So, a shift is needed. To live into this newly discovered truth about human motivation, we need to understand and apply the power of intrinsic motivation, which Pink calls “Motivation 3.0.” The extrinsic motivations were the simple positive/negative of reward/punishment that I’ve mentioned already. If you stop to boil extrinsic motivation down to this basic level, it is clear how much it is like training a dog, or worse, conducting experiments on lab rats. Yes, we need a paycheck. We like getting bonuses and accountability is helpful. But these may need to be understood and used differently if they are to be aligned with what is true about the way we are wired.

The intrinsic motivations are more powerful and more productive. They are: Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose. I should let Dan Pink take it from here. The first video is just under 11 minutes long, but hardly feels it. A presentation of his has been edited and tightened for time, then animated with a whiteboard drawing as he talks. Check it out. If you’d like to hear a slightly extended version, check out the TED conference video below, which is just under 19 minutes.

I don’t have answers yet, but here are some questions that come to my mind from my context as a pastor.

  • How might this relate to our spiritual growth, our discipleship?
  • What part of our human story does this explain and/or account for? What does it fail to explain and/or account for?
  • How could this inform the way I lead the staff at my church?
  • How could this inform the way I lead the membership (read: volunteers) at my church?

What questions or applications occur to you?

You can check out the book Drive, plus his blog, and anything else from Daniel Pink on his website.

all religions are not the same

That all religions are not the same is plainly obvious to traditional practitioners or believers in a particular religion. But where the public conversation around the topic has been dominated either by atheists attacking religion generally (“they’re all the same, and bad”) or by multi-culturalists and pluralists lifting them up (“they’re all the same, and good”), the distinctiveness of each religion has been ignored.

Enter religion professor Stephen Prothero. He first signaled a warning about the impoverishment of our understanding of world affairs and western civilization with his book, Religious Illiteracy, lamenting how dreadfully little we knew about major religions in general and Judaism and Christianity in particular, as influential as they have been and are in the West. Now he takes an additional step, pointing out not only our collective ignorance of basic doctrine, history, and practice of various religions but also our mental laziness and disrespect in proclaiming them “all basically the same.” The book is God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World and Why Their Differences Matter.

Check out the promo video below. This entertaining appearance on The Colbert Report offered the usual off-beat opportunity to promote the book afforded to Colbert guests.

new year goals, new again to blogging

Whew! It’s been awhile. I didn’t realize how much I needed a break. It was good to step back, but I’m ready to get back to writing regularly. Re-launching my blog is one of my 2010 personal goals. My re-launch date is next Monday, 18 January (and maybe even re-design, but that would be a couple months off). I aim to re-focus my writing mainly around a few topics. That’s not to say that some familiar content won’t show up — it probably will. But I’ll be angling my thoughts and reflections on experiences through the following lenses:

  • Christian spirituality
  • What I’m reading
  • Life’s curiosities

On the topic of goals, I’ll share my 2010 personal goals soon here, mainly as a way to be accountable. Here are a couple of posts from Michael Hyatt, CEO of the Christian publisher Thomas Nelson. I’ve come to enjoy and appreciate his blog this past year. These are on reviewing the previous year and setting goals for the coming year.

How do you approach setting goals for your upcoming year?

most religious college/university campuses

The most recent Top 20 list of most religious college/university campuses. An observation: Of the top 20, there are 4 public schools (if Univ. of Utah is public). They are:

  • Texas A&M University (#13)
  • US Air Force Academcy (#14)
  • Auburn University (#19)
  • University of Utah (#20)

Top 20 list is here. Top five were…

  1. Thomas Aquinas College (CA)
  2. Brigham Younger University (UT)
  3. Wheaton College (IL)
  4. Hillsdale College (MI)
  5. University of Dallas (TX)

My alma mater, Texas A&M has appeared on these sorts of lists before. I’m not suprised. Christian ministry on campus is strong.


gut vs brain in ethics – and the winner is…

Gut! According to¬†Made to Stick brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath. They write about the value of feelings over rational deliberation in their current Fast Company column, “In Defense of Feelings.”

The obvious application to the church and the gospel is the long work of forming Christian character in people vs. equipping the mind alone to think through ethical issues. On the one hand, we definitely need the ability to think through complex ethical problems in order to find and live out the faithful response. On the other hand, we must be able to sniff out questionable situations and say no, because we are just as able (and apt?) to use our rational powers to justify ourselves in our badness as we are to follow God’s leading into goodness.