Joy.

So, Saucony is running this social promotion/experiment/marketing ploy/whatever called Find Your Strong (or, because it’s social media based #FindYourStrong). It’s hitting in conjunction with the annual running of the Bulls Boston Marathon – which, for you non run-nerds is happening this weekend and is always cause for simultaneous head scratching (wow. how/why do they do that?) and seat bouncing (gosh. think I could ever do that?).

It is very cool and inspiring, but I digress. It got me thinking. The campaign asked for the best running advice you ever got. It occurs to me that my best running advice is also my best living advice. And it comes from our good friend Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians (chapter five, verses 16-18, to be specific.)

Always be joyful.  Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

‘Nuff said, in my book. This is a running goal, a life goal, mantra, challenge, bar all in one. It’s not simple, and it is rare to find someone who is truly joyful, prayerful and (IMO, most importantly) grateful for their Whole. Entire. Life. The diamonds and the crap. The smiles and the sadness. You get the drift. If it’s running, this is simply being thankful for the ability, the place and the time to run – regardless of your speed, your lungs, the weather, whatever. If it’s life, well, it’s just everything.

But that’s a little bit pie in the sky, now, isn’t it. Can anyone say they’re always joyful? Always thankful? (Always truthful?) Negatory. So, that begs the question, what exactly does engender joy and gratitude?

It’s Columbia University’s Earth Institute to the rescue! Apparently, countries all around the globe have happiness studies. The Earth Institute saw fit (with support from the United Nations Conference on Happiness…don’t you just want to sit in on that??) to survey the state of happiness in the world and to look at how the science of happiness plays into it. Here are some of their findings – most won’t surprise you, but it’s an interesting snapshot nonetheless, and it may beg the question about things impact your joy. (Hint…it’s not GDP.)

  • Richer people are happier than poorer people on average, but wealth is only one factor in overall happiness. The same goes for countries, where factors like personal freedom, lack of corruption, and social support are more important.
  • Unemployment obviously reduces happiness, but not because of what you may think. It’s not the loss of income, but the loss of things like self-esteem and workplace social life that lead to a drop in happiness. High unemployment rates can trigger unhappiness even in the employed, who suddenly become fearful of losing their jobs. According to the study, even low-quality jobs yield more satisfaction than being unemployed.
  • In some countries, the self-employed report higher levels of job satisfaction than the employed. The study found a positive correlation between happiness and self-employment in both American and European data, but not in Latin America. The possible reason: Self-employment may be a necessity in developing countries where formal employment is not as readily available. When it’s not a choice, it doesn’t lead to happiness.
  • Higher living standards correspond with increased happiness in some countries, but not all. In the U.S., for example, happiness levels have remained stagnant while living standards have risen over the past 50 years or so.
  • Levels of trust (i.e. whether you think someone would return a cash-stuffed wallet) have fallen dramatically over time in certain countries–including the U.S. and U.K.–but risen in others, like Denmark and Italy. One explanation may be that overall life satisfaction has dropped in the former countries, but has risen in many continental European countries.
  • Lack of perceived equality can reduce happiness. The report explains: “The most positive results are in an interesting time-series study using both the U.S. General Social Survey and Eurobarometer. This finds that in both the U.S. and Europe increases in inequality have (other things equal) produced reductions in happiness. The effect has been stronger in Europe than in the U.S. This difference probably reflects ideological differences: Some 70% of Americans believe that the poor have a chance of escaping poverty, compared with only 40% of Europeans.”
  • Mental health is the biggest contributing factor to happiness in all countries, but only a quarter of mentally ill people get sufficient treatment in the most developed nations.
  • Married people across the world (studies have been done in the U.S., EU countries, Switzerland, Latin America, Russia, Eastern Europe, and Asia) claim that they’re happier than single counterparts. A stable family life also contributes to happiness.

So, presuming you’re reading from someplace in the USA, and you’re happy, you’re likely wealthy (enough), employed – possibly self-employed, trusting, mentally stable and married. As I write this, I realize that I have every reason in the world to put all my belief and effort into those words from Thessalonians. How about you? Share your joy. 

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