Does your Religion Make You Happy?

Does your Religion Make You Happy? July 16, 2013
Columns inside the Parthenon.
Photo courtesy of my eldest daughter.

So, I’ve been on a writing hiatus for a little while because of all of my children, my Master’s thesis has been the most difficult. It has taken six years to be born and while I would like for it to have sprung fully formed from my head, the process has been more like Leto in perpetual labor. Without my dear friends and relations cheering me on, there is no way I would be able to finish. I just have to give it one final push and my little contribution to science will have been born. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Meanwhile, my spiritual life keeps on spinning. Last Sunday, we up to Nashville for my yearly ersatz Panathenaia and family picnic. I left some prayers and wool and managed to knit a few stitches while feeding the littlest one. The bulk of my prayers were for wise governance for our state, local, and federal governments because that is always needed, but I also hoped for wisdom for those close to me and for myself as I move from this task to the next in the coming year. I’m strongly considering joining the ranks of our nation’s educators so that I can teach science to kids. My love of science runs deep and if anyone can help me determine whether and how to pursue this after I finally graduate, it’s the grey-eyed goddess herself.

Even though I am always super busy, I’ve undertaken a project that I hope will improve the quality of my life. Because I’m terrible at coming up with names for things like this, I’ve decided to call it the “Year of Awesome.” The idea here is that I’m going to spend this year from this Summer Solstice to next Summer Solstice, making me into a better me. Much of my focus is on health and fitness since “in shape” has meant being rather round of belly for the past year and I’m ready to have my body back as much as is possible for one who is still breastfeeding. I’m already below my pre-pregnancy weight and feeling pretty energetic, so this first month has been a success. The hard part is going to be keeping it up through the winter. Once we transition from Apollo’s rule in the Temple to that of Dionysus in the fall and winter, I tend to slow down, drink a lot of wine (during years when I’m not pregnant or nursing), and eat a lot of food. This formula does not equate to “lean” or “fit” for me, but self-knowledge is sexy and now that I know this, I can adjust my activity to fit my personality.

In an unrelated, but serendipitous move, our Women of Faith group decided to read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, a book chronicling the author’s year-long pursuit of happiness. The gods work in obvious and unsubtle ways. It’s a good read and, remarkably, a secular book that can be easily applied to a spiritual practice. UU Jill came up with some questions we’ll work on answering during our next meeting. Truth be known, we’ll probably veer off topic pretty quickly, but these are great questions to explore in the context of any spiritual or religious practice. In the interest of efficiency (coughcoughlazinesscough), I’ll quote Jill here:

– How do your spiritual beliefs shape your concept of happiness?
– What manageable resolutions might you undertake to give spiritual values more emphasis in your day-to-day life?
– Consider a spiritual “master” or well known person outside your own faith — What attracted you to this figure? What does this spiritual master teach you about your own beliefs?
– Where/when do you feel most spiritually awake?
– Gretchen said in the book, “When life was taking its ordinary course, it was hard to remember what really mattered.” Do you find that true for yourself? What resolutions might you adopt to keep what really matters in the forefront of your ordinary life?
– Gratitude, mindfulness, service, study, enthusiasm, humility, selflessness, faith, and kindness are among the virtues emphasized in spiritual practice. When she was starting her happiness project, Gretchen reflected, “I think if I felt happier, I’d behave better.” Do you think being happier helps you to be more virtuous? Or is happiness beside the point?

The author, happy she doesn’t have to travel to Greece to visit the Parthenon.

For me, happiness is exactly the point. I’ve often said that if your religion isn’t making you happy, you’re doing it wrong. Religion, in my reckoning, should contribute to your happiness. Real, lasting happiness has, in my experience, stemmed from being in the world in a more skillful way and my religion helps me do that. I’m happier when I’m honest, compassionate, mindful, healthy, enthusiastic, and so on. I’m not claiming to be any kind of enlightened being or that my practice is the way to true happiness, but rather that just about any religious or spiritual practice has the potential to lead to happiness and that happiness can bring you closer to your deity or deities of choice. I do think this leads to living more skillfully. I don’t know about “virtue,” as such. I prefer to think of “behaving better” as being skillful, but you get the idea.

So, my own “Happiness Project,” aka the “Year of Awesome,” will be to reach for my own personal arete to honor Apollo. I’ll be finishing up the thesis, moving on to the Next Big Thing, and improving my mental, physical, and social health. To quote Ms. Rubin, “Your project would look different from mine, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit from a happiness project.” I’m looking forward to hearing about how my fellow Women of Faith pursue happiness in the context of their own practices and I would love to hear some of your answers to Jill’s questions about how what it means to be happy in the context of your religion and/or spirituality.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment