Leonardo Radomile is an author, political consultant, and a guest contributor to several news outlets. The following article written by Radomile expands upon his previous work looking into the connection between mental health and attitudes toward religion and religious practice.
Leonardo Radomile explains that in the first installment we began to explore the relationship between religion and mental health. Exploring research literature in psychology and the sociology of religion we found that there were several overlapping principles in the current psychological understanding of the components of mental health that correspond to a number of dominant theological principles in Evangelical Christianity. This may explain why Evangelical Christians more often describe themselves as very happy and very healthy when compared to their secular counterparts. We then went on to examine the nature of the “Born Again” Experience and its impact on the reduction of anxiety and the creation of positive emotion. In this installment we will expand our examination of positive emotion into the realm of happiness and examine how certain theological principles found not only in
Evangelical Christianity but in the entire Judeo/Christian Tradition again correspond to current psychological principles of what produces happiness.
First, Leonardo Radomile says, we must define happiness. Martin Seligman and other proponents of Positive Psychology make the distinction between two types of happiness: Hedonic Happiness and Eudaimonic Happiness.
Hedonic Happiness focuses on emotion, i.e. the feeling of wellbeing. One is happy if one feels happy. This often includes the positive emotions of pleasure, excitement, and contentment, and an absence or minimization of negative emotions like sadness, anxiety, and anger. Again, the emphasis is on feelings and these are often stimulated by external circumstances and events, experiences occurring outside of the person experiencing them. This is the type of happiness that most secular people identify with.
Eudaimonic Happiness, on the other hand, is less focused on feeling and more focused on what are perceived to be the elements of a good life. These would include an overall philosophy of the meaning of one’s life, family, friendship, and meaningful work. Eudaimonic Happiness is considered superior to Hedonic Happiness in that it is less contingent on individual events and provides a framework for giving meaning to negative and even tragic events. A rough but dramatic example would be the difference between lottery winners and certain survivors of death camps in the Holocaust.
Leonardo Radomile reports that in a study done on lottery winners it was found that once the initial euphoria wore off, lottery winners were no more happy than members of a control group. If hedonic happiness was true happiness one would think that the ability to create or purchase experiences that would produce pleasure and excitement and the ability to insulate oneself from events that create anger and anxiety would produce an increase in happiness when clearly that was not the case.
Contrasted with that is the study done by Viktor Frankel in Man’s Search For Meaning where prisoners in concentration camps were able to create meaningful lives that gave them satisfaction even under the most horrid circumstances.
Leonardo Radomile notes that this stark contrast of Hedonic vs Eudaimonic Happiness, i.e. being able to get everything that I want v. nothing that I want and everything I don’t want makes Eudaimonic Happiness worth exploring.
Two key psychological components of Eudaimonic Happiness are faith or a philosophy of life and meaningful work, principles found throughout the Judeo/Christian tradition. Leonardo Radomile asserts that the Jewish concentration camp inmates came from a tradition that imbued them with a philosophy of life. It gave them a way to make sense of the world and events even under the worst circumstances. Life events, even tragedies, made sense when seen in a larger context of a divine plan in history. Added to this was a sense of meaningful work. Frankel found that those who survived shared a commitment to survival in order to bring the perpetrators of those events to justice. Many of those survivors not only succeeded in doing just that but also went on to found a homeland for the Jewish people, something that had been denied them for over 2,000 years.
Hedonic Happiness v Eudaimonic Happiness, the secular v the traditional religious outlook: fleeting feelings of pleasure and absence of pain v the satisfaction that comes from a meaningful life that makes a contribution to others even under the worst circumstances. A stark example, no doubt but one that shows not only the overlap between religious concepts in the Judeo/Christian tradition and psychology but may also begin to suggest that there may be something in that tradition that transcends the science of psychology and can bring a satisfaction that no amount of knowledge or analysis can.