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Searching for Happiness: How Generosity, Faith and Other Spiritual Habits Can Lead to a Full Life.

Searching for Happiness: How Generosity, Faith and Other Spiritual Habits Can Lead to a Full Life

by Martin Thielen Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Ky. 192 pages

Drawing from scientific studies, interweaving Scripture and illustrating his points with personal anecdotes, Thielen illuminates how 10 attitudes and behaviors can help to make people content, happy or fulfilled.

Perhaps you work closely with the small group ministry in your congregation, as I do. Or, perhaps you frequently search for studies, resources and materials for the people in your congregation who are eager to engage one another and Scripture in a small group setting, as I do. If so, you can stop searching (for now) because author Martin Thielen has developed an excellent resource for our small groups. "Searching for Happiness" is a perfect companion for a small group or Sunday school class that is looking for a thought-provoking, practical and theologically-accessible group study study on the topic of happiness.

Drawing upon recent research about happiness, Thielen's concise book (with a guide for study and reflection at the end) explores the habits, attributes and traits that make people content. He stresses that happiness does not arise from external circumstances such as pleasure, possessions, philosophy or production of things, but that real happiness or contentment (he uses the terms interchangeably) is "an inside job." When Thielen calls the quest for happiness an "inside job," he refers to the work that an individual does intentionally in his or her own life to cultivate specific personal attributes, traits or habits. This work involves deliberate and intentional cultivation of 10 different attitudes or personal traits: affirming that external circumstances don't determine happiness, using trials as growth opportunities, cultivating optimism, focusing on the present, practicing forgiveness, practicing generosity, nurturing relationships, expressing gratitude, taking care of our bodies and taking care of our souls.

The book is easily adapted for a 10-week study. Each chapter explores the scientific, experiential and scriptural evidence for the trait or attribute explored therein. Drawing upon data from scientific studies, interweaving Scripture and illustrating his points with personal anecdotes, Thielen illuminates how those 10 attitudes and behaviors--when pursued vigorously--can help to make people content, happy or fulfilled.

At first glance, the 10 traits seem like common sense. The real difficulty arises when figuring out how to make the 10 traits and practices part of everyday behavior and habit. This is where the study guide can be particularly helpful. There are six questions on each topic in the study guide at the back of the book that are personal in nature, thereby helping the reader think more pointedly about the trait or attitude explored in the chapter. Following the six questions is a practical, real-life challenge for the reader in which he or she can take steps toward implementing the trait or attitude in his or her own life. This is where the common sense information in the book becomes reality for the reader.

In a world of one-upsmanship--where so many of us strive to get ahead and are on the production treadmill as we wonder what it's all for, Thielen's "Searching for Happiness" helps to reorient us toward traits, activities and practices that just might lead the reader to step off of the production treadmill to a deeper, more satisfied, more contented, more genuinely happy life.

EMILY BERMAN D'ANDREA serves as associate pastor for Christian formation at Lewinsville Presbyterian Church in McLean, Virginia, where for 14 years she has worked with the church's small group ministry, Stephen Ministers, mission and outreach programs and contemplative ministries.

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Author:D'Andrea, Emily Berman
Publication:The Presbyterian Outlook
Date:Jun 6, 2016
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