The Happiest People in Town

Do you ever read a newspaper article that ticks you off?

In this morning’s USA Today, a full page is devoted to what they call “the Well-Being Index.” A beautiful 50-year-old skinny lady named Mary Claire Orenic is shown stretching yoga-like in front of a lush garden area. The caption across the top of the article asks, “Is this America’s happiest woman?”

She might be. I hope she is. However, not enough information is given for the reader to make that determination.

What information is given? What is the “Well-Being Index?”

I’m glad you asked.

It’s divided into three sections: Work, Health, Relationships.

Under “Work,” some of the ideals are: a college degree with some grad school; professional or executive class, and a family income of $120,000.

You didn’t finish high school? and you make considerably less than that? Sorry. You can’t be as happy..

Under “Health,” ideals are–and this is good–excellent physical and emotional health, BMI (body mass index) under 30 (30 and above is obese), and you exercise for 30-45 minutes at least 6 days a week.

Too bad if you are overweight or skinny and don’t belong to a gym. Can’t be happy.

Under “Relationships,” ideals are “married and never divorced,” 2 children (“Gives birth between ages 27-36); no caregiving for young children or sickly parents, in-laws or spouse; has 4-12 intimate friends.)

You have to take care of elderly parents or a handicapped child? Sorry, Charlie. Your happiness potential just tanked.

You can see why I did not care at all–not at all!–for this little exercise.

Now, to be fair, I imagine the author–well-known writer Gail Sheehy–would say she did this to spark the very kind of discussion we’re having here. That she didn’t mean it to be the final word on the subject.

Good thing. Because it ain’t nearly the final word.

I put a note on Facebook this morning about this index and received some interesting comments.

Martha said, “Really? Children to whom you gave birth? Adoptive parents are less happy? Already (the index) seems stupid.”

Andrea in Denver said, “And do you work 80 hours a week for that 120k, and do you like your spouse?”

Ken in Columbus, Ohio, said, “Interesting. No mention of faith community.”

Pat in Dayton said, “I must be the unhappiest person in the world if that is the criteria for happiness. No paycheck in 3 years, have RA, been divorced and had 2 children by the age of 25. Must be mentally unbalanced because I am happy because they have left out the most important thingin the mix: JESUS!”

Ken in Montana said, “I would be happy to be in New Orleans and eat shrimp again.

Good stuff, gang.

But I thought I’d tell you what Joe in New Orleans says about happiness.

I’m unemployed and retired. My income fluctuates depending on what the church where I’m preaching this weekend pays, but it hovers around half of the ideal. I’m not taking care of an elderly parent but my wife is a semi-invalid. I do the exercise/walking thing they recommend. And, if I’m any judge, my physical and emotional health are solid.

And I am as happy as anyone I have ever met. Period.

So, what’s the secret?

No secret. In fact, it’s the very thing Jesus was mentioning when He said, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” (That’s John 10:10)

Abundant life. Full, rich, deep, high, and broad.

I seem to have it.

It’s rooted in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

And it’s seen in my relationship with people.

Take this morning, for instance.

After reading the USA Today in my hotel room (Hampton Inn, Pascagoula, MS; I preached at First Baptist here last night and will spend the evening drawing children at the church’s Fall Festival, an alternative to Halloween, tonight before heading back home), I showered and went downstairs to breakfast.

I poured a cup of coffee and was blown away by the cheery greeting from Jacqueline on the front desk. So, I walked over with my red notebook and said, “I have something for you.” Desk clerks are trained to give full attention to guests, so she said, “Yes sir?”

I pulled out a sheet of paper and said, “I’m a cartoonist. I’d like to draw you. It takes only a minute and you’ll like it.” She was game.

It turned out well. Jacqueline–they call her Jackie–said, “You wrote 10/31 at the bottom of it. That’s nice, because today is my anniversary of coming to work here at Hampton.” How many years? “Twenty.” She looks 25, so that’s quite a feat.

Willie came in and so I drew him. “I’m retired from the military,” he said, “But far too young to hang it up.” How old are you? “I’m 79.” Wow. He looks wonderful.

Melba was working the breakfast room, so I sketched her. She told the couple at the next table, Cindy and Jim, from Destin, Florida, and I ended up drawing them. Jim says they are retired, but own a farm up in south Alabama. “I was raised in Alabama,” he said. Me too.

He wanted to know where I was raised. When I said, “Around Walker and Winston County,” he said, “Do you know any Kilgores?” I do.

I said, “My mother was a Kilgore.”

He said, “Mike Kilgore was a fraternity brother at Auburn. He and Linda are still great friends.”

I said, ‘We’re first cousins. Mike’s dad Cecil is my mom’s youngest brother.”

That did it. For the next 15 minutes we sat there getting acquainted, topping each other’s stories. Jim and Cindy Cravey had just been to the Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola this weekend and were heading home when they stopped here overnight. Jim was raised Baptist and they now belong to a wonderful Methodist Church in Destin, so we had lots to talk about.

That was a full one hour’s breakfast time. (I did manage to get down a bowl of raisin bran and 2% milk and a boiled egg.)

I came upstairs with my mind filled with thoughts of happiness, what makes us happy and fulfilled.

The author of that USA Today piece did a nice thing when she got us studying about the subject, but if she thinks happiness is a product of how much money we make and whether we had 2 children between the ages of 27 and 36 and sport a body mass index of 18.6 (like Mary Claire), she doesn’t have a clue.

Happiness is being whole in Jesus Christ and knowing you are where He put you, doing those things for which you are uniquely gifted to do and you are making a difference in the lives of those around you.

It hardly gets any better than this.

From one happy man.

2 thoughts on “The Happiest People in Town

  1. Interesting read. Now does USA Today really believe the junk they turn out as word smiths as being an accurate picture of reality about what true happiness is all about? I seriously doubt it. I have had the hardest 4 yrs in business and owe more money than I ever hope to get paid, yet I couldn’t be happier because I get to transtional pastor a small church of loving people which runs about 60 on most Sundays. It ain’t perfect but they love the Lord and desire to walk in the light of His grace. But then, even with all the challenges I face financially, the abundant life in Christ, puts it into proper perspective. It will pass away one day. Your blogs make others like me think and that’s just plain good. Gordon Donahoe

  2. You mentioned it, but I want to underline it. The sense of calling and knowing I am in His service where He wants me has been the driving force in my life. Along with it comes peace, happiness, and a kind of confidence I could not have without His assurance.

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