… Or “The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People – Their Secrets, Their Stories.”

I do not usually pick up self-help books, but the title was so intriguing (and I was so unhappy) that I decided to take a chance on it. Twenty years later, I am still living into the lessons I learned from this unusual research, written by Rick Foster and Greg Hicks. The book itself does not come from a Christian perspective, so as I read it, I modified their counsel somewhat to include God.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Our constitution guarantees the right of every American to the pursuit of happiness, and you and I see the interpretation of that pursuit all around us.

A lot of people are not happy, no matter how hard they try.

What is going on?

And what about people with dual citizenship, in both heaven and the U.S. Is “happiness” still a good pursuit? Are Christians even supposed to be happy? Does God intend for us to be happy?

How about God? Do you think of God as happy?

Most Christians I know would respond, “Well, what does the Bible have to say about it? Can we find anything about being happy in the Bible?”

And the answer is yes.

Every time you and I read the word bless or blessing, or blessed, we are reading about happiness.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, to bless means to “bring happiness, pleasure, or contentment.” Our word bliss is a derivative of bless. So, every time you and I read bless in the Bible, we can insert the word happy, or pleased or content … or blissful. Sort of transforms reading the Beatitudes, does it not?

So let us take stock.

How Happy Are You?

First, try to identify the way you feel physically and mentally right now, right at this moment.

Do you feel content? Centered? Capable? Are you calm? Oriented? Rested? How deeply happy are you? Rate yourself on a scale of one to ten, with one being not happy at all, and ten being as happy as any person could ever be – deeply, transcendently, blissfully happy.

The following nine categories, identified by Rick Foster and Greg Hicks after much research and interviewing, represent the choices happy people make. As you read through them, be as honest as you know how to be with yourself. After all, taking stock only has value when you and I are honest.


Intention requires both the strong desire to be happy and the commitment to be happy. It is the fully conscious decision to choose happiness over unhappiness.

  • As you go throughout your day, to what extent do you actively intend to be happy?

Never is one, always is ten


Accountability is the choice to assume full personal responsibility for your actions, thoughts and feelings, and the emphatic refusal to blame others or circumstances for your own unhappiness. It is the insistence on seeing yourself as having control over your own choices, rather than being at the receiving end of circumstances.

  • To what extent do you assume personal, responsibility for your life and take a proactive stance in the face of circumstances?

Never is one, always is ten


Identification is the ongoing process of looking within yourself to identify what makes you happy. As followers of Christ, we might modify this category to some extent, praying for wisdom to discern between good and evil in what makes us happy.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:4 (NRSV)
  • As you go through your day, to what extent do you ask yourself, “Which choice or direction will truly make me happiest?”

Never is one, always is ten


Centrality is the happy person’s non-negotiable insistence on making that which creates happiness a central activity in life. Happy people do not “wait for retirement,” for example, or put off what gives them greatest joy.

  • To what extent do you centralize?

Never is one, always is ten


Recasting is the choice to view problems as opportunities and challenges, and to recast extreme trauma into something meaningful and important. For the believer, we understand this is where God’s life-giving energy will flow.

  • To what extent do you recast everyday problems by turning them into opportunities?

This means really feeling your unhappy emotions deeply, then moving through those feelings to hope and renewed life because you see how God is transforming the trauma into opportunities and meaning?

Never is one, always is ten


Options represent the decision to approach life by being open to new possibilities, and of taking a flexible approach to life’s journey. This is at the core of having faith in God’s guidance.

  • In your own life, are you aware of opportunities? Do you take risks? Are you flexible enough to jump into the unknown for the experience of trying something important or new?
  • Never is one, always is ten


Happy people actively appreciate their lives and express gratitude and thanks to the people around them. For the believer, gratitude is also regularly raised up to the Lord. Happy people revel in each moment and transform that which is ordinary into something wonderful.

To what extent are you aware of the moment, and grateful to both God and to those around you for what they mean to your life?

Never is one, always is ten


Sharing yourself with friends and family, with your community and the world at large without the expectation of a “return on investment” is a hallmark choice of happy people. For the believer, this givingness extends up to the Lord and out to the Body of Christ. Giving is a constant in life, and may manifest itself in your career, your community work, your church world or sharing through your creative arts.

To what extent do you richly give yourself to God and others?

Never is one, always is ten


Happy people “speak the truth” in an accountable way, protect personal boundaries, and will not conform to the demands of society, the corporation, or the culture. Their truthfulness becomes a contract they have with themselves and, most importantly, it is a way to check their thoughts and actions against their own internal, personal code. Happy people keep integrity.

  • How truthful are you with yourself?

Never is one, always is ten

This Is Real

The first chapter of How We Choose to be Happy goes into detail about the research Foster and Hicks entered into as they studied the phenomenon of happiness. Typically, they would observe a workplace, or other type of regular gathering of people, then ask who the people in that group thought was the happiest person among them. Usually, one or two names would regularly come up. Those were the people they interviewed.

As they gathered data, the above nine categories began to take shape and became the foundation for their findings. The book I have in front of me—published in 2004—has endorsements from such reputable institutions as the Mayo Clinic, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and the American Heart Association.

This is solid data indeed!

As I took stock, all those years ago, I realized how profoundly not happy I was. Part of that might be due to personality, and life experiences. But certainly also, I was not making the above choices all that often in my life. Learning how to think differently, how to live differently, has become my life’s work.

The more I have thought about these choices, the more I see the apostles and prophets teaching them in the scriptures, the more I see the glorious inner life that is to be every person’s inheritance in the Lord.

James, Jesus’s brother, wrote,

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.

James 3:17 (NRSV)

That is how I find the wisdom in this book, as read through the illumination of God’s light.

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