I love this quote by illustrious NASA scientist Dr. Robert Jastrow (1925-2008): “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
I would just add to Dr. Jastrow’s keen insight, that it’s not merely theologians at large who have long lounged atop Mount Understanding. It is, more precisely, Judeo-Christian theologians. Indeed, with time and chance, even science can eventually catch up to God’s Word.
Case in point: Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic is one of the world’s most prestigious health institutions. With much fanfare, researchers there announced last week that they have “cracked the code to being happy.” “Imagine scientists coming up with an actual formula for happiness – a specific recipe for lifelong contentment and joy,” they tease.
Well, my forlorn little friends, imagine no more. These scientists boast of having “created just such a formula based on neuroscience and psychology.” For a mere $15.95 – less than your daily dose of Zoloft and vodka – they’ll rush off to you “The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness,” a “four-step self-help process” to finding “a lifetime of joy and contentment.”
“Happiness is a habit,” says the study’s chief researcher Dr. Amit Sood in the Daily Mail. “Some of us are born with it; others have to choose it.”
“Previous research has shown that our minds are hard-wired to focus on negative experiences. For our ancestors,” continues the report, being perpetually PO’ed, “helped them stay alive, providing an evolutionary advantage in the face of danger.” (Some of us attribute this to mankind’s fallen, selfish, sinful nature, but we can go with that whole evolution thingy if it makes them feel better.)
Concludes the Daily Mail: “The book makes readers focus on a different positive emotion each day, such as gratitude, forgiveness and kindness.”
Wait. Hold the Mayo. This is déjà vu all over again. What “book” are we talking about here? Where have we heard all this before – talk of gratitude, forgiveness, kindness and whatnot, leading to joy, contentment, happiness and so forth?
Anyway, click over to Mayo’s related “How to be happy” page and you’re given a little more detail.
“People who are happy seem to intuitively know that their happiness is the sum of their life choices, and their lives are built on the following pillars:
- Devoting time to family and friends
- Appreciating what they have
- Maintaining an optimistic outlook
- Feeling a sense of purpose
- Living in the moment
Look, I’m glad you’re getting the message out, guys, but, c’mon, plagiarize much? This isn’t a revolutionary “formula” “created” by “scientists” and “based on neuroscience and psychology.” While it’s all true, you’re a bit late to the game. Dr. Jastrow’s theologians have been well acclimated to this lofty altitude for, oh, about 2,000 years. You guys have more degrees than a thermometer. You should know to cite your original source.
So, let’s break it down. Though there are many to choose from, and while the following is in no way comprehensive, let’s contrast Mayo’s “breakthrough” happiness pillars to but a few of their long-established counterparts in the original “handbook for happiness:”
Devoting time to family and friends
“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24-25).”
“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).”
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:12-13).”
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity (Proverbs 17:17).”
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10).”
Appreciating what they have
“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5).”
“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world (1 Timothy 6:6-8).”
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content (Philippians 4:11).”
Maintaining an optimistic outlook
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).”
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9).”
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).”
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2).”
“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones (Proverbs 17:22).”
Feeling a sense of purpose
“I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me (Psalm 57:2).”
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10).”
“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands (Psalm 138:8).”
“For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end – it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay (Habakkuk 2:3).”
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23).”
Living in the moment
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34).”
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them (Matthew 6:31, 32).”
“As it is said, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion’ (Hebrews 3:15).”
Still, ultimately, Jesus Himself sums it all accordingly: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me (John 14:1).”
The Mayo Clinic’s pilfered wisdom notwithstanding, that, my friends, is “the actual formula for happiness.”
Matt Barber is founder and editor-in chief of BarbWire.com. He is an author, columnist, cultural analyst and an attorney concentrating in constitutional law. Having retired as an undefeated heavyweight professional boxer, Matt has taken his fight from the ring to the culture war. (Follow Matt on Twitter: @jmattbarber).