The Harvard Happiness Study: Or, The Evasive Presence of Happiness in a Sinful World

happiness-wideFound this engrossing article, entitled “What Makes Us Happy”, in The Atlantic.  It covers the 75-year-old Harvard happiness study, one of the longest-lasting and most important of modern psychology.

In it, the author, Joshua Wolf Shenk, makes this noteworthy point:

“The story gets to the heart of Vaillant’s angle on the Grant Study. His central question is not how much or how little trouble these men met, but rather precisely how—and to what effect—they responded to that trouble. His main interpretive lens has been the psychoanalytic metaphor of “adaptations,” or unconscious responses to pain, conflict, or uncertainty. Formalized by Anna Freud on the basis of her father’s work, adaptations (also called “defense mechanisms”) are unconscious thoughts and behaviors that you could say either shape or distort—depending on whether you approve or disapprove—a person’s reality.”

Read the whole thing. There is a great insight to be had here, I think.    It is this: life is hard.  It is about struggle.  Unlike the hedonistic, life-is-beautiful vision of the world peddled by much popular culture, the directors of this study came to realize that life is at its core about navigating hardship and coping with difficulty.

How one copes with challenges makes all the difference.  This corresponds nicely with the Christian worldview.  It is, in a sense, what the Bible teaches us about life in a post-fall world.  How we respond to our sin and a fallen world determines our earthly happiness and, most importantly, our eternal destiny.

It’s good to remember this insight.  The wisdom literature of the Bible make it in a number of ways, even as the New Testament clothes it with distinct categories.  Today, this very day, life is not so much about cloud-hopping, about avoiding pain and suffering, but rather about how we handle the challenges that will surely come our way.

This mindset is a bit hard for some to accept.  But it is clearly realistic, and it clearly reflects the realities of life in a post-Adamic world.  None can evade the curse here.  It affected even our Savior, who showed us the way to handle pain, to meet suffering, and to die triumphantly in a world of defeat.

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One response to “The Harvard Happiness Study: Or, The Evasive Presence of Happiness in a Sinful World

  1. Ely

    Simple yet powerful writing and very true. Victor Frankl also wrote about the concept of coping with suffering in Man’s Search for Meaning-ultimately suggesting that it is up to the individual to decide whether or not they allow sin to defeat hope/life.

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