Monday 8 July 2013


There is something about the early morning that is qualitatively different from the rest of the day and I think that it is in the silence and the freshness of the day that we are perhaps at our most reflective, another day with all the possibilities that this unknown quantity can bring and an opportunity to plan, to decide perhaps what our options may be. Of course those options may be circumscribed by the necessities of the working day but in a way we still have choices even if its only in the way might approach our work what our attitude might be are we going to be the same as we were yesterday or are we going to move on to find new areas of personal challenge and so on.

The start of a day is like a fresh page in a book. It's a fresh page in an exercise book, blank page for us to write on, to write our lives on, every word every full stop, if we think about it is important, we can't go back and edit it because it's written in indelible ink. Sometimes, I will be pulled up short and reminded what I did or said weeks, months, and decades ago. Did I? Did I do that, did I really say that? I ask. Regrettably probably, I did. The good news is that although we can't change the past we can live in the present and write a new story and hopefully we can do the same, God willing in the future.

The good news is that we have the capacity to realise happiness in this life much more than we probably know or allow ourselves to do. A recent study of what make people happy was recently undertaken from across the whole of the United Kingdom where 1001 people were asked what happiness meant for them. They weren't asked to select factors from a series of tick box questions but rather to put their own answers to this question in their own words. Unsurprisingly the respondents listed components of happiness as falling in to six areas: relationships, contentment, security and money, health, transcendence and fulfillment  The two major things that emerged in this study was firstly that people, actually 73% of the people that responded, mentioned relationships as the only or one of their definitions of happiness. This finding is consistent with research that shows that supportive social connections are fundamental to feeling good. I think this absolutely true, we all need friends, and we all need to give and receive love if we are to live a healthy balanced life. Certainly, this is what the ethos of any church community must be about if we are to live up to the standards we proclaim. Jesus said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.'"

Secondly, and this was the component that seemed to have surprised much psychological opinion was that 56% of opinion emerging from this research was that contentment was put forward as a major factor. This was something that really upset the apple cart. Because apparently, positive psychologists have this thing they call a happiness formula or even a magic happiness formula that goes something like this pleasure plus engagement, plus meaning equals happiness. In other words if we engage in something pleasurable and find some meaning in it then we will achieve happiness. This kind of happiness to me seems like the kind of happiness that the advertising companies deal with, a sort of commodity happiness that can be bought and found in a product whether it's a new car or a foreign holiday. However, contentment is something really quite different and although we can equate happiness with contentment it can be useful to know the subtle differences.

Oscar Wild is once supposed to have said that the most insincere question is, "how are you?" and that it's the most crashing bore who proceeds to tell you. Not withstanding the wit of Oscar Wild, at the risk of being insincere; sometimes I ask people how they are; I will ask if they are happy. By that I don't mean are you happy because you have all the things that you want or you happy because you have just come into some money. Rather, I ask from a more general point of view, are you happy with your life? Are you contented in other words? Because I happen to think that contentment is the only really authentic happiness that there is and I think this contentment comes not from the world as we want it to be but from an acceptance of the world as it is. We are reminded of the words from Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

This contentment we are talking about is very clear it is about acceptance and courage, accepting the things that cannot be changed and having the courage to change the things that should be changed. Acceptance is about accepting ourselves and other people for who they are, acknowledging that there are things that simply won't be changed or can't be changed and having to live with it. Contentment can involve recognising the present moment and embracing it as the only reality. Perhaps you can call it The Power of Now where there are no 'what ifs' or 'if only' if only this had happened or if only that had happened or if and so on. In any given situation we are where we are and we must proceed from that. In the survey on happiness conducted by a national opinion poll they found that ordinary people were saying things like, "For me, happiness is about personal tranquility , "Happiness is going to sleep peaceful and waking up the next day," "Being at peace with the way things are going", "Happiness is when you are OK inside about where you are and who you are, "Happiness can be found in simply just taking the dog for a walk"

I suppose you could say that happiness or contentment is found in seeing things as they really are. Real happiness or contentment is not a soft option it's not about giving in or giving up, living a life of docile passivity or agreeing with what is fashionable to agree with or like some people who will agree with latest opinion until another one comes along. Real happiness is also about being true to yourself as Shakespeare would have it

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!