Last Christmas a doctor invited my family to perform a show for about a dozen of his elderly patients.
As it turned out, only five were well enough to attend. It was the smallest audience we had ever performed for, but the beautiful smiles on those wrinkled faces made it worth the time and effort. Afterwards, we visited a few more frail seniors in their homes. One woman with a walker greeted us outside and led us into her dark little house, where I sat with her on her bed and we sang Christmas carols together in the local dialect.
My three-year-old son Manuel was playing an educational game on the computer when his six-year-old sister Alondra demanded that he let her have a turn. Manuel’s response was typical.
“I was here first!”
I don’t know where Manuel picked that up, but it got me thinking. It’s a generally accepted principle of human society that those who “get there first” have more rights than those who get there after them. The first one to set foot on virgin land is entitled to take possession of it. The first one to find a pearl in the sea, or strike gold or oil may claim it as his own. The first one to make a scientific discovery or invention may patent his find and claim any profits that may result. The first one to settle in on a particular spot on the beach becomes the owner of that spot for the day.
In the last few years, psychologists and researchers have been digging up hard data on a question previously left to philosophers: What makes us happy? Researchers like the father-son team Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener, Stanford psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, and ethicist Stephen Post have studied people all over the world to find out how things like money, attitude, culture, memory, health, altruism, and our day-to-day habits affect our well-being. The emerging field of positive psychology is bursting with new findings that suggest your actions can have a significant effect on your happiness and satisfaction with life. Here are 10 scientifically proven strategies for getting happy.
I am the father of a large family, a full-time Christian volunteer, and a part-time sports coach. During our family’s two-year stay in India, I always packed some sports equipment when we traveled.
Our time there included many challenging and rewarding experiences. Our teenagers did volunteer work at several medical clinics, where they cheered up and helped ease the suffering of terminally ill children. They also taught at a home for children who had lost their parents to AIDS. We traveled to the sites of natural disasters, bringing water, food, clothing, and other relief supplies. It seemed that wherever we turned, someone needed encouragement or assistance.
Based on Luke 19:1–10
Zac gazed out of his window toward the west.
The waves of the sea danced gently, reflecting amber from the glowing orb that was slowly descending toward the blue water. It was sunset, his life was drawing to a close, and it was time to take stock. It had been a full, rich life, and Zac smiled as he reminisced. Seeing joy on a child’s face; watching hope replace despair, faith replace doubt; celebrating the love of God for His people—these were the memories that Zac cherished. But it had not always been so. …
I have this thing about things. You see, I think some people have way too many of them—like those people who can’t put another thing in their garage or their closets, so they rent a storage place for their extra things.
When I moved houses recently, I had to decide what to do with many of the things I’d accumulated since my last move. Boy, oh boy! That’s when I realized I had indeed become one of “those people”—a thing collector!
One by one the prisoners filed into the small meeting hall. Each one wore the same gray outfit and had the same closely trimmed haircut, but their faces showed that each was an individual with his own story of what had brought him to this place.
“I am arranging for the most hardened and dangerous criminals to watch your program,” the warden had told us. “Many of them will never see freedom again. They are the ones who most need to hear what you have to say.”
Last Christmas my children and I teamed up with another family to spread Christmas cheer to children with physical disabilities. Our program consisted of music, clowns, and lots of personal attention. Because the children’s disabilities varied greatly from audience to audience, we never quite knew what to expect.
One show was hosted by an organization that assists disabled children from low-income families. When we arrived, one adorable toddler caught my attention immediately.
In the Philippines, the Yuletide season means everything—family reunions, commemorating Christ’s birth, celebrating love. Combine that with good food, endless parties, and halls “decked with boughs of holly” from September all the way to February, and you’ve got a pretty merry Christmas.
But several years ago, Christmas didn’t bring the same good feelings for me. Maybe that was because I was a 20-year-old single girl who was craving a different kind of love that Christmas.
2 Corinthians 9:7: Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Deuteronomy 15:10a: Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart.
Exodus 25:2: Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give.