But psychologists have known for a long time that there are even more basic things than those that might first come to mind – things that actually offer ongoing happiness and contentment. Numerous studies have found that to be lastingly happy we need three things above all else: someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to.
The strange thing is, you can tell people that the correlation between these three things and happiness has been repeatedly documented, that there is good science behind these three “keys,” and they will still often ignore them. It’s as if the answer is too easy to take seriously.
Surely, many people think, you could have those three things, but without good health … or without enough money … or without whatever, you wouldn’t really be very happy. But that’s where the studies come in. Psychologists have verified that even without the things we tend to presume are necessary for happiness, we can still find that elusive condition if we do have the three “keys.”
For the Christian this is a particularly interesting fact. When we look closely at the life of Christ himself, we see that despite not having many of the things people usually equate with happiness and in spite of undergoing great suffering, Jesus was still able to seek and find great happiness and joy (Hebrews 12:2). In the same way, the apostle Paul wrote “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11), and although we may presume this just means being “OK” about how things are, there is no doubt, when we read Paul’s writings, that he lived a life of true contentment despite the hardships he endured.
It is true that happiness – joy – is one of the fruits of the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22), but the reason Christ and Paul experienced joy in their lives need not be entirely attributed to that reason. We have only to read the Gospel accounts of the life of Christ and to study the writings of the apostle Paul to see that both of them – and doubtless many others in the early Church – based their lives on the very things we have called the keys of happiness.
Christ calls his disciples to follow in his footsteps in constantly loving God and not just one person, but every person (John 13:34). Christians are called to a work which is of worldwide scale and in which anyone can find a truly meaningful role (Matthew 28:18-20). Followers of Jesus Christ also have more to look forward to than anyone else – the return of the One they follow and an eternal life in his service (Revelation 20:6-7, 22:12-13). These opportunities do not just “meet the requirements” of the keys of happiness – they fulfill them incredibly!
Yet if we take away any one of these keys – if our outgoing love is limited, if we are not truly involved in the great work to which we were called, or if we do not keep the hope of our calling firmly in mind – we will not experience deep and lasting happiness and will always feel some degree of emptiness. It’s a little like having a safe with three keys – even having two out of three keys still will not open the safe. It is only as we use all three of the keys in our lives that we find happiness that doesn’t need more money or possessions, that doesn’t even require good health, but that is true and lasting happiness nothing can take away.