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November 6, 2013
Column #1,680
Healthy, Wealthy & Wise – But Unhappy?
By Mike McManus

“Bethesda (MD) area residents are among the best educated, highest paid, healthiest people in the nation. So why are people complaining that they’re not happy?” asked a provocative article in Bethesda Magazine.

More than half of Bethesda’s residents have a graduate or professional degree. Rates of smoking, obesity, heart disease and diabetes are among the lowest in the country, according to an article by Stacey Colina.

Yet half of Bethesda residents are “mildly to severely unhappy,” says Dr. Robert Hedaya, a Georgetown professor. Why? “There’s a sense that it’s never really enough. Like a drug, the benefits of power and money are transient and one always needs another fix.”

Psychologist Steven Stosny is quoted: “Happiness is an elusive goal: If you pursue happiness you’re less likely to be happy. I think happiness is a byproduct of having meaning and purpose in your life.”

Agreed, but the question is how to do it.

The author quoted a philanthropist who finds her happiness in “meditating more.” A restaurant executive counts “ what I have; I don’t really count what I don’t have and that makes me happy.”

These suggestions seem thin to me.

Hedaya, a psychiatrist, asserts, “People are not born into a social network, and it’s hard to establish one and find stability in one here.”

That is flat-our wrong. Anyone can become involved in a house of worship where they will quickly find a network of people who care for one another. One can become as involved as desired. Churches offer classes for learning, opportunities to serve the less fortunate or teach children.

America’s churches are doing a lot that is working to serve hundreds of millions of people. Gallup Polls report that 58% of Americans say religion is “very important” in their life, and that figure has not changed in 20 years. Another 23% say it is “fairly important.”

However, 72% believe religion is “losing its influence,” a big jump from 39% who felt that way in 2001. Membership in a church or synagogue has dropped modestly from 63% in 2009 to 59% last year. Some 40% attended religious services last week, a figure which is unchanged from 1992.

Scripture rarely speaks about happiness, but often about joy. “Sing for joy to God our strength,” begins Psalm 81. “A wise son brings joy to his father,” asserts Proverbs 10:1. Jesus predicts to his disciples: “Your grief will turn to joy.” Paul writes to the Thessalonians: “You are our glory and joy.”

Happiness described by the magazine is fleeting and based on circumstances. Despite their success in worldly terms, Bethesda residents find happiness elusive. Although they are enjoy good health and are physically fit, many do not seek being spiritually fit.

What they are missing is a connection with God and fellow believers that nurtures a deep joy that can prevail over loss and despair.

For me, that joy is also fed by studying Scripture, sharing that time with my wife in doing so, and in coming to know God’s purpose in our lives.

Our church gives all members a subscription to “Encounter with God,” a daily plan of reading Scripture and commentary by Scripture Union. We begin our day by reading an opening prayer. Today it was “Lord, thank you for Your Word. It is a lamp for my feet and my guide through the dark times of life.”

Last month, we read Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians, about 15 verses a day, followed by a page of commentary. In I Thessalonians 2:7-8, he writes “We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”

The commentary that day asked, “Who has been a positive influence on you for godly living? How so? How can you be a positive influence for someone this week?”

Thus, Scripture Union has created a guide for meeting God daily in His Word. To learn more, see www.ScriptureUnion.org.

After reading the Scripture and commentary, my wife and I pray. We thank God for his many blessings, and pray for each other, family members with health or other needs, plus the needs of friends.

Whether you are married or single, nurturing faith will bring deep joy into your life.

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