10 Keys to Happiness

Key 2: Relating – “Connect with People”

This is the second reflection on the ’10 keys to happiness” promoted by “Action for happiness”(AfH). You will see that the initial letters of each key spell out GREAT DREAM. AfH have identified these as activities which promote mental health and wellbeing.

In this series we are exploring how this psychologically and clinically well researched menu – and AfH describe the list as a menu rather than a prescription- how does it compare with a Biblical perspective? Do we find the 10 keys reflected in the great Bible narratives? Do they align with the way Jesus lives life? How do Jesus’s parables compare? Is there symmetry with The Beatitudes – there is more than one translation that reads “Happy” rather than “Blessed.” What we may find is that science (or psychology) is much more in tune with Christianity than we are lead to believe.

Our second reflection is on Relating. Research has determined that loneliness is as detrimental to wellbeing as smoking or obesity. Mother Theresa observed “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”

Chris Peterson one of the founders of positive psychology says “if you want to remember one thing – other people matter.”

AfH comments “People with strong and broad social relationships are happier, healthier and live longer. Close relationships with family and friends provide love, meaning, support and increase our feelings of self worth. Broader networks bring a sense of belonging. So taking action to strengthen our relationships and build connections is essential for happiness.” So both the quality and the quantity of our relationships matter.

As Christians we should not find this “key to happiness” at all surprising. For what is clear is that God himself exists in relationship. At creation “the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). And the prologue to John’s gospel declares “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” Father, Son, Spirit – Trinity before creation. In His very nature God is relationship.

And having been made in God’s image, it is logical that we, too, need relationship. So, the creation narrative continues “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” (Genesis 2:18).

And as the relationship between God and His people develops, and a covenant is established between God and Israel, the summary of the Law is expressed in terms of relationship “Love God and love your neighbour”.

The Revd. Dr Stephen Cherry, Dean of King’s College Cambridge, in his lent book this year, entitled “Thy will be done” comments on the surprising reality that when Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray he does not begin the prayer with addressing God in the way which was typical in the Hebrew scriptures and Psalms – “Judge”, “Lord”, “Master” “Mighty One” – but “Father”. He goes on to say “When Jesus used the word “Father” as the mode of address with which to begin this prayer, he was shifting the focus of our relationship with God from one based on power and deference to one based on care and support” and “ Jesus was deliberately moving people’s understanding of God from the institutional to the relational”.

Perhaps in recent decades, there has been a strong emphasis on the individual. “What is important is my rights; my preferences; my point of view, and I am going to make sure I am all right.” This key to happiness and the Biblical narrative show this to be misplaced. Truth lies much more in the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” And we live as Christians as part of the “communion of Saints.”

Against the Biblical background, the importance of relating and connecting reveals itself as fundamental. And it’s worth noting that both quantity and quality matter. And who we relate to can make a massive difference in our lives, and influence and fashion us. We might say that relationships make us who we are. But relationship with God makes us who we are meant to be. Surely quality in relationships is determined by love; forgiveness and, looking back at key 1, giving. And God in Christ models these qualities.

My son in law, Jon, is a great networker. Somehow or other, in a busy life he always finds time to keep in touch with the people who matter in his life. And the brief phone call in the car often leads to supper round the table with friends. So keep up the contacts you have; make new ones; and bring to them the love, forgiveness and joy which is ours in Christ Jesus.

Would it be true to say Happiness is all about relationships?