November 9, 2009

Choose To Be Happy
by Pastor George Van Alstine

What makes you happy? Most of us have some idea of how to answer that question. It usually has to do with our circumstances—things we have or don’t have, things that happen or don’t happen to us. We might be tempted to say, “I’d be happy if only . . .”

There have been a number of interesting studies on the genetics of happiness. With our burgeoning knowledge of DNA and its effect on human behavior, it is possible to identify a predilection to happiness or unhappiness with certain specific genes. Scientists have done some interesting experiments focusing on identical twins, who have the same genetics but are brought up in different families and very different situations. It turned out that some of the paired twins studied proved to be happy regardless of circumstances, while other pairs seemed to be incurably unhappy. Based on these studies, a consensus has developed that happiness is determined about 50% by an individual’s genetic makeup.

That leaves the other 50% of the factors determining whether we are actually happy or unhappy. It has been suggested by several sociologists that this 50% is divided between things we have control over, about 40%, and circumstances beyond our control, about 10%. If this is true, we clearly attribute to things that happen to us more influence over our happiness than they actually have (which is even reflected in the fact that “happen” and “happiness” come from the same root).

Our concern ought to be entirely about the 40% we can control. This includes all the true choices we make. Genetic factors may have a powerful effect on our basic personality and our major inclinations—whether we are outgoing or introverted, what our intellectual limits may be, our general emotional stability, etc. But that other 40% has to do with what we make of our genetic raw material, which certainly includes decisions like how well we do in school, whether we make close friends, what career we choose. Most critically, it also includes whether and to what degree we will believe in God and commit our lives to him. This is a real choice we can make, regardless of our genetics and our circumstances.

The Bible is about challenging us to use the 40% of our destiny that we have some control over in order to maximize our happiness by bringing ourselves into harmony with God’s happiness. If we correctly understand its teachings and urgings, we will not feel either guilty or proud about the 50% that came to us through our DNA. Nor will we agonize about the 10% external circumstances we can neither resist or control. We will develop an enthusiastic partnership with God in making full use of the 40% which is determined by neither circumstances or genetics, making choices that will bring true and lasting (eternal!) happiness to God, to ourselves and to those around us.