If you’re young and feeling unhappy about your life, there is hope. Apparently, our unhappiness bottoms out at age 47. This is all according to a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Researcher David Blanchflower used 15 different measures of unhappiness: despair, anxiety, loneliness, sadness, strain, depression and bad nerves, phobias and panic, being downhearted, having restless sleep, lost confidence, tension, feeling left out, and thinking of yourself as a worthless person.
This week, I turned 46, and this article somehow showed up on my Facebook timeline (coincidence?).
I will admit, I have often struggled to find happiness. Sometimes, life hasn’t turned out the way I dreamed it would. I’ve always wondered about having enough money or whether I was making the right choices as a husband and father. Because of my work-related travel, really close friendships have been hard to come by. Even in Christian ministry work, there is a constant game of comparison to the charisma of other leaders, the size of other ministries, and whether you are appreciated for your contribution in the Body of Christ. In addition to this, there is the sting of loss when going through difficult times or seasons of transition in life.
For me, the year 2019 (age 45) was probably my most challenging year so far. Even though many of the circumstances have not changed yet in 2020, I will say that I am happier today than I was one year ago at this time. What changed?
Here are five ways to renew your happiness in 2020.
1. Search your heart for the false gods of happiness.
I had to deal with the reality of looking to people, circumstances, or things to make me happy. In my own mind, I had to name those things and remove them from being the center of my life because they can never make me entirely happy.
2. Renew your joy and confidence in God.
I had to refocus myself to renew my own walk with God. I needed to give space for Jesus to be the living water who would quench my thirst. This happened through time in meditating on the Bible, praying, worshiping, and watching for God’s work in my life every day. Renewing my walk with God helped me to strengthen my confidence in Him. It’s incredible how my trust in God connects to my ability to sleep and be at peace in life’s challenging moments.
It is interesting to me that God speaks to all of the ways our unhappiness is measured.
3. Focus on what is good.
I had to train my mind to think about my blessings instead of my difficulties. By the end of the year, I have been learning to end my day identifying three things I am grateful for from the past day.
4. See every difficulty as an opportunity.
As I look back, I see every difficulty from the past year was really an opportunity. It was a place where God was working to set me free from something that was limiting my life and character, or He was allowing me to show others the reality of Jesus in me.
My wife had vertigo in December while her mom was in her final weeks of battling cancer. This was a very overwhelming and often stressful time for both Shannon and I. Here is what God showed me – I could let the circumstances get me, or I could bring life into the circumstances. This was an opportunity to step up and learn new ways to love my wife well. It was an opportunity to help comfort and support my family. Through this, God helped take my marriage to a new level of strength, and our family relationships would also become stronger. Our difficult circumstances became an opportunity to find greater joy (and we did).
5. Stay connected with others.
The report on happiness talked about how “isolation, loneliness, and lack of community” is really hurting people in dealing with this issue of happiness. The good news is – God has a solution for that as well! Not only do we get access to God, but He makes us part of the church.
Many people don’t see the point or have the time to be part of the church. But when I look back on 2019, I can’t imagine where I would be without the people in my Life Group or the other Christian friends and mentors I leaned on in a big way. It wasn’t all about lamenting my sorrows. We had fun together – we prayed together – we served together – we worshiped together. The key was, we did it together. They helped me keep my focus where it needed to be. They helped me become a happier person.
Happiness does not need to be defined by your age or your circumstances. God wants you to be happy – we just need to stop allowing culture to define what will make us happy.