By Rev. Dr. Amy Gohdes-Luhman
Waconia Moravian Church
Emoticons. Back in the 1970s it was called a smiley face and it was a simple yellow face with a single-line smile with dimples and two dots for eyes. Now they have evolved into an electronic form of communication on our phones, iPads, tablets, and computers. I can send an emoticon that winks and sticks out its tongue. I can send one with tears streaming down its yellow face. I can send one with twinkling eyes and kissy lips, which my husband found out you cannot send to your daughter at college. The other day on a group message my son indicated he wasn’t feeling well at school to which my daughter replied with 5 smiley faces wearing doctor’s masks. Smiley faces have gotten more complicated over the past three decades.
It may be that happiness itself has gotten more complicated as well. A few months ago there was an article in the Star Tribune called “Happiness Habit.” The article shared the work of Dr. Amit Sood of the Mayo Clinic who has written a book called “The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness.” Dr. Sood believes that happiness does not necessary come naturally to all individuals, but can be consciously cultivated and developed.
In the article he offers four steps toward happiness. The first step is attentiveness. One has to train the way they engage and observe the world. One’s happiness is enhanced by slowing down and being aware of our surroundings.
In that awareness we may offer gratitude. He suggests starting each day by thinking of five people for whom you are grateful. This slows us down and keeps our first thoughts away from our TO-DO list and focused more on what really matters in life, our relationships.
The second step is to cultivate emotional resilience. The principles of emotional resilience are gratitude, compassion, acceptance, meaning and forgiveness. It was in this second step that I realized that this is what the church, at its best, attempts to model and teach for its community.
Certainly these concepts are practiced well by those who do not claim a faith tradition, but in the church these are named, taught, modelled and also studied. What does forgiveness really mean? What is acceptance about in a church that has both dogma and tradition? What is the meaning of life and death? To whom or what are we directing the overwhelming gratitude we feel when we are in love with someone or when we encounter unexpected beauty? What does it mean to show compassion to our neighbor—who is our neighbor?
The emotional resilience Dr. Sood calls for is deeply complicated and an exceedingly rich asset in our search for happiness.
The third step is to start a mind-body practice, by that he means an activity that will relax your mind and body. That may be meditation, stretching, yoga, reading, etc. The final step is living healthy and mindfully. Choosing healthy foods and slowing down and savoring each bite, regular exercise and getting enough sleep.
Dr. Amit Sood does not mention adopting a faith tradition as one of his steps toward happiness, but in step #2, one can certainly see that value of engaging one. Our seemingly inherent awareness of “something” divine or spiritual in this life would indicate that engaging faith may be an endeavor we want to take seriously. The Christian Church may not translate its knowledge of happiness as clearly or as honestly as it could. But that knowledge of JOY and happiness is in the church and the space to engage it critically and intentionally is provided. That does not mean all Christians are shiny happy people smiling, but the pursuit is taken seriously, you are invited to join in…(three emoticons with wide toothy smiles).