While chemotherapy was infusing into a vein in John’s right arm, he frowned. Who wouldn’t? To encourage him, the nurses urged him to be happy as to improve the chances he would get better. Taking their advice seriously, the next day after he recovered from his treatment John sought out books on happiness at a Barnes and Noble as well as happiness apps on his phone. To his amazement he found a treasure-trove of books promoting happiness at the book store as well as a thousand happiness apps on his phone. John was in luck!
As he started to read these resources, John quickly discovered the advice given was for activating what was inside, not what’s outside. The resources urged self-discovery, producing emotional independence, not interdependence on anyone or anything else–spending more time with one’s self, not engaging with the outside world. Since John was estranged from his wife and children and on the road for his business, John was alone most of the time. “I can’t believe being alone even more can be the answer—I’m already alone ninety percent of the time, and I’m not happy,” John pined. John was out of luck!
Though there is great emphasis on solitude and introspection in our current cultural scene, research has shown that we really need the opposite—we need relationships. Extroverts as well as introverts in multiple studies concur that what makes them happy is other people. These results are irrespective of race, gender, age, income, and social status. Social interaction is the best indicator of a happy life, and as the nurses suggested, is also good for your health. Loneliness provides a big risk of premature death, greater than smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol, and twice as risky as obesity. Bottom line: The most significant thing we can do for our well-being is to develop relationships and friendships.
Because of his family situation and travel, this would not easy for John. However John is not alone in his life situation nor is his situation unique, but others have solved this problem. What is the solution? In the Bible I found a character who overcame some of the same problems as John and could provide a solution for John. Soon after the days of Jesus, the apostle Paul made three extraordinary missionary trips to spread Christianity. He was either unmarried or a widow and alone for long periods of time as he travelled throughout Asia Minor and Europe. How did Paul feel about his situation? In the city of Troas (in modern day Turkey) Paul lamented: “I had no peace of mind because I did not find my [friend and fellow missionary] Titus there” (2 Corinthians 1:13). Therefore he travelled to Philippi (in modern day Greece) to seek out Titus. In Philippi Paul found relief when he located Titus: “In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you” (2 Corinthians 7:13). Paul was happy for two reasons: He was reunited with his friend Titus, and because Titus had been generously welcomed and accepted by the people in Greece. Paul consciously sought out his friend.
John needs to reach out to his neighbors where he lived, to acquaintances in his church, and professional colleagues on his travels. “I’m not going to sit in a pew by myself anymore,” John quipped. It is not easy to establish or maintain a friendship or relationship. It takes effort and not always smooth sailing like for Paul in the first century. Yet John admitted, “I’ve had trouble with my relationships—I know that, but I do feel better with other people rather than being alone.”
Despite the difficulties of social interaction, happiness is other people. Work at relationships. They are worth it and can save your life! And of course, make you happy.