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The Relativity of Happiness

Last month, The Atlantic published an article entitled, “Are McMansions Making People Any Happier?”  The article was based on a study by Clement Bellet, which demonstrates that:

  • modern day houses are significantly larger than from four decades ago.
  • average family sizes are significantly lower than from four decades ago.
  • therefore, there is almost twice as much space per person per house today than four decades ago, and as a result, people should be happier with their homes now.

This is a logical conclusion. One would assume that having a bigger house would produce a higher level of happiness, but Bellet’s study found that to not be the case:  “Despite a major upscaling of single-family houses since 1980, house satisfaction has remained steady in American suburbs.” The reason, Bellet believes, is that owners compare their homes to their neighbors’ homes, and if their house is not the biggest, their home satisfaction dwindles.

This study reminded me of one I read about several years ago (which I could not find again), that asked people to choose from two options:

•  You receive $50,000, and your neighbor receives $25,000, or

•  You receive $100,000, and your neighbor receives $200,000.

Ironically, more people chose the first option than the second, even though they would receive less money.  Why is that?  Why should other people’s possessions have an impact on one’s own happiness? 

I don’t know if it’s human nature or just American nature, but in this country, people have a need to “win” at everything.  Make more money.  Have a bigger house.  Drive a fancier car.  Have a nicer lawn.  Get ahead of the other guy in traffic.  Be Number One!

My brothers, these things ought not to be so!  We have no need to outdo one another in any aspect, save one:

        Outdo one another in showing honor.  (Rom 12:10)

Material blessings are nice, to be sure, but Paul instructed Timothy to not worry about possessions:

Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  (1Tim 6:6-8)

Paul says that contentment is to have food and clothing, and that these are enough for GREAT GAIN!  You have no need of riches to be rich, but Paul then proceeds to warn against the desire for material riches:

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  (1Tim 6:9-10)

Would that we were all more like Paul, in being content with whatever we have:

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.  (Phil 4:11-13)

There is always going to be somebody richer than you, but don’t look at them.  Instead, look the other direction:  look at others who are not as rich as you.  There is always somebody else who has a need that you can fill.  And when you help others, your happiness will grow.

- Phil Parker


The Ice Cream Prayer

Last week, I took my children to a restaurant, and my six-year-old son asked if he could give thanks before we ate. As we bowed our heads he said, “God is great, and God is good. Let us thank Him for the food, and I would even thank you more if Mom gets us ice cream for dessert. And liberty and justice for all,  Amen!”


Along with the laughter from customers nearby, I heard one woman remark, “That’s what’s wrong with this country. Kids today don’t even know how to pray. Asking God for ice cream! Why, I never!”


My son heard her and burst into tears.  “Did I say it wrong?” he asked, “Is God mad at me?”


As I was assuring him that God was not mad at him, an elderly gentleman approached our table. He winked at my son and said, “I happen to think that was a great prayer.”  Then he whispered, “Too bad that lady never asks God for ice cream. Sometimes a little ice cream is good for the soul.”

Of course I bought my kids ice cream at the end of the meal. My son stared at his for a moment and then did something I will never forget. He picked up his sundae and walked over and placed it in front of the woman. With a big smile he told her, “Here, this is for you!  Sometimes ice cream is good for the soul, and my soul is good already.”

(Author unknown)



“Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than
standing in your garage makes you a car.”
  -  G. K. Chesterton