AP and MTV on the Happiness of Young People

In what is being hailed as a “landmark” study, MTV and the Associate Press are reporting that both family and faith have a significant impact on the happiness of 13-24 year olds.

The two entities collaborated on a 7 month, in-depth study of how sex, money, race, faith, family and technology affect the happiness of American young people.

Here is part of the reported findings:

Religion and spirituality are an integral part of happiness for most American youngpeople. 44 percent say that religion and spirituality are either a very important or the single most important thing in their lives, with more than one in ten reporting the latter. And those for whom religion and spirituality play a bigger role in life tend to be happier. 80 percent of those who say spirituality is the most important thing in life say they are happy with life in general, compared with 60 percent of those who say that spirituality is not an important part of life at all.

Complete findings from this study are available here and here.

Though it has often been clouded over and misrepresented in various contemporary expressions of the Christian faith, God is very concerned with our happiness. Not the cheap and fleeting varieties that come in quick thrills that dissipate faster than they arrive. But the kind of joy and gladness that go deep and give life. The kind that David sang about in Psalms 16 and 36:

“In Your presence is fulness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (16:11)

7 “How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. 8 They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures. 9 For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light” (36:7-9)

The Westminister Divines understood this as they framed the answer to the first question in the Shorter Catechism.

What is the chief of man?
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Note that it is not two chief ends (plural) but one end (singular). This is why John Piper says that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” God’s glory and our joy are bound together.

C.S. Lewis’ oft-quoted words from The Weight of Glory are very appropriate to help us think clearly about how serious God is about our happiness:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and to earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I suggest that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Those of us who are experiencing this joy in God through faith in Christ must do two things. One, we must not settle with whatever degree of joy we have already attained. Since it is “unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8) we must keep pressing on to know more of it–to drink more deeply from those rivers of pleasure that God has for us in Christ–throughout our lives.

Second, we must become increasingly promiscuous in telling others about this joy and helping them discover it through the good news of Jesus Christ. The fact that studies are indicating that young people are discovering happiness through “religion and spirituality” does not necessarily validate Christianity, since all kinds of beliefs and nonbeliefs can fall under that heading. But it does provide a point of contact for communicating what the Creator of joy has to say about the path to it. If we are walking that path, then let’s joyfully persuade others to join us for God’s glory and their happiness.