The Gospel of Happiness:
faith through spiritual practice and positive psychology
Image (8 Sept 2015)
This proved a marvelous read. Human beings are meant for happiness and studies show that people of faith are among the happiest. Why is this? Because the norms of faith such as forgiving others, practicing the virtues, practicing gratitude and prayer make us happy.
The author notes that it was the well known psychologist Martin Seligman who coined the term "positive psychology" in 1998. He challenged fellow psychologists to investigate the positives of life on the basis that the prevention of depression, for example, is better than its treatment.
A wealth of research shows that positive emotions are needed before we make good decisions. What is really interesting is that this was known to the great Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The decisions of life should not be made when we are disconsolate. Indeed positive psychology research generally confirms the wisdom of Christian practice.
We hurt others by weakness of will rather than outright malice. We need to strengthen willpower in order to avoid the occasions of sin. Positive psychology can help with this. For example, research shows that we have a tendency to recall negative events rather than positive ones. We recall the person who insults us rather than the one who compliments us. It is shown that the ancient practice of counting our blessings really does work. The "Three blessings exercise" is shown to reduce depression.
Without gratitude, we cannot live happy lives. The research shows that grateful people are more enthusiastic with life and deal better with stress. It is also shown that without forgiveness, we cannot sustain long-term relationships. Perhaps this book is ideal reading in the aftermath of the Synod on the Family.
The author reminds us that freedom is the power to do good rather than evil, for evil enslaves. There is a real difference between freedom and licence.
Positive psychology confirms the happiness producing effects of serving others, giving thanks and forgiving others. Psychology and spirituality are not alternate ways to happiness. They ought to complement each other and we find plenty of research in this book to show that this is so.
Reviewed by Dr Pravin Thevathasan