I don’t know about you, but I greatly appreciate the work of talk show host Dennis Prager. Why? Prager’s issues are my issues: good & evil, theology, and human relationships. Recently, I started re-reading Prager’s excellent little book: Happiness is a Serious Problem. In chapter 1, Prager explains why he feels that happiness is a moral obligation. He gives three reasons:
- “We owe it to our husband or wife, our fellow workers, our children, our friends, indeed to everyone who comes into our lives to be as happy as we can be.” Let’s think about that one. Is it easy or hard to be married to an unhappy person? How does it feel to a child to have unhappy parents? How do parents feel when their children are clearly unhappy? If your boss or your co-workers on the job are miserable, how does that affect your work environment?
The point is: our happiness or unhappiness has an affect on the people we come in contact with. We therefore have a moral obligation to be as happy as possible. I’m not talking about feigned happiness, but genuine happiness that comes out of one’s inner well-being.
- “In general, people act more decently when they are happy.”
When you are unhappy, do you treat people better or worse than when you are happy? Point here is: Happy people treat other people better, unhappy people treat them worse.
- “…unhappy religious people reflect poorly on their religion and on their Creator…unhappy religious people pose a real challenge to faith.”Some of the angriest, most unhappy people I’ve met have been religious people. When outsiders see unhappy religious people, they presume it’s their religion that’s making them unhappy. Consequently, they want no part of it. As Prager writes: “Unhappy, let alone angry, religious people provide more persuasive arguments for atheism and secularism than do all the arguments of atheists.”
The Oregon Gummer
Years ago, my oldest son Dave and I were driving through Oregon together. We stopped at a motel that looked both inviting and inexpensive. After we had signed in, we were approached by an older man with white hair, a black suit, and no teeth. He had sparkling blue eyes and a wonderful, toothless smile. “Look Dad, it’s a gummer!” exclaimed my son. The elderly man was pushing an old, black gearless bicycle. He cheerfully introduced himself, hopped on his bike, and led us to our room. He explained that he was a Seventh Day Adventist, that all was right with his world, and that he loved performing the service he was providing. The toothless smile never left his happy, rosy-cheeked face. The elderly “gummer’s” happiness was contagious. Though tired from a long drive, we immediately felt lifted because the old man’s radiating joy and contentment.
When religious people are unhappy, Prager suggests two reasons: 1). They are not practicing their faith correctly or 2). They are practicing it correctly, but their faith is not conducive to happiness! If the religions we practice produces hate, division, an “us/them” mentality, paranoia, alienation, and unhappiness, then perhaps its time to re-examine their content. In Jesus’ day, as in our own, there were religious people who believed that if they killed other religious people, they were somehow doing God a service. Something is drastically wrong with that picture.
I agree that seeking to be happy is a moral obligation. After all, the second listed fruit of the Spirit is “joy” (Galatians 5:22). The third is “peace.” People who are living lives influenced by the Holy Spirit are loving, joyful, peaceful people – as was our “gummer.” He was at peace with God, with himself, and with the world around him. It spoke well of his religion.
If you’d like to know more about how happiness happens, I recommend Prager’s book: Happiness is a Serious Problem – A Human Nature Repair Manual by Dennis Prager, Regan Books, 1998. You can pick up a copy for around thirteen bucks.