Last week, the Huffington Post published an article about the Harvard Grant Study. The study followed a group of people over 75 years in an effort to discover what is most likely to make us happy and fulfilled.
What might sound groundbreaking to some people ought to sound familiar to Christians. If they had just asked us, we could have saved them 75 years and a lot of money by simply directing them to the words of Jesus.
The five “secrets” of the Harvard study are listed below:
1. Love really is all that matters.
Jesus says exactly the same thing in Matthew 22, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … and love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Love is number one on their list and number one on Jesus’ list. He even goes so far as to call this the greatest commandment. Jesus understood the central importance of love, too.
2. It’s about more than money and power.
The study concluded: “they’re small parts of a much larger picture.” In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches that money is neither permanent nor important, and that the pursuit of material possessions and earthly position is secondary to our pursuit of righteousness.
It is about more than money and power. It’s about finding our place in God’s kingdom and seeking to live a life worthy of our creator. That’s a much larger picture.
Jesus understood the limitations of money and power, too.
3. Regardless of how we begin life, we can all become happier.
The story of Jesus is a story of healing, hope and transformation. Jesus teaches us that the story of our lives is one of redemption and restoration.
Understanding our lives in this way gives us freedom to find happiness in progress along our journeys. Jesus understands that it’s not the circumstances we’re born into that make us happy. He teaches that we can all become happier, too.
4. Connection is crucial.
The Harvard study found strong relationships to be the best predictor of life satisfaction. Jesus says love your enemies, give to those in need, take your marriage vows seriously, be reconciled to your brother or sister, let your word be your bond, and be perfect in your love for one another even as God is perfect in love.
And that’s all on just one page of my Bible (Matthew 5). I actually had to flip two pages to find “Do unto others as you wish them to do unto you.”
Jesus teaches the importance of building and maintaining relationships, too.
5. Challenges – and the perspective they give you – can make you happier.
In Matthew 5, Jesus begins to teach by saying, “Blessed are those who mourn … Blessed are the poor in spirit … Blessed are those who are persecuted … Blessed are you when people insult you.”
He goes on to talk about the perspective that self-denial, prayer and fasting can give you. Jesus understood the value of challenges, too.
We live in a world that is desperate to find purpose, fulfillment, connection, hope and happiness. As Christians, we have the answers to their questions. Our God offers the purpose and fulfillment for which the world searches.
Of course, the Christian life is about much more than individual fulfillment in this world. But it is about that, too. And we don’t usually put our best foot forward.
The wider world must think the Bible is only about abortion or universal health care or the conflict in the Middle East or gay marriage, to name only a few issues.
What if we presented a different message? What if we offered ourselves as the products of a 2,000-year study to discover the best path to a happy and fulfilling life?
What if we offered our “secrets” to the world with humility and openness and hope as children of a loving Savior?
I think we might find a wider audience. Who knows, they might even publish our findings on the Huffington Post.
Matt Sapp is the minister of congregational life at Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga. A version of this column first appeared on Wieuca Road’s blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @MattPSapp.