Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family with Jim Daly

Finding the Path to True Happiness

Finding the Path to True Happiness

Dr. Henry Cloud explains how secular research on happiness points to the way God tells us to live in Scripture, and how maintaining certain life principles and priorities contribute to our sense of happiness.

Original Air Date: June 24, 2013



Children: If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands, clap, clap. If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands, clap, clap. For the Father up above is looking down in love, If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands, clap, clap.

End of Clip

John Fuller: Well, that’s a precious song and it’s all about happiness there and we’re gonna be talking about that subject on today’s “Focus on the Family,” with author and Focus president, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and many are familiar with that little song. I don’t know, Jim, have you sung that along with your kids at any point in time?

Jim Daly: It’s that kind of song that you’ve sung so often with your kids that now that’s gonna be stuck in my head the rest of the day.

John: Well, that’s not a bad thing. (Laughter)

Jim: No, it’s not, but it’s that … that rhythm, you know. I’ll be in a meeting four hours from now (Laughter) and that, “If you’re happy,” (Laughter) but we have good reason to be happy. God loves us, each and every one of us and uh … we want to talk about that today with a very special guest. Sometimes we get bogged down with thinking about our happiness and how our happiness depends on things. It’s money; it’s career. It’s do I have the right body image? Have I lost weight? Are those the things that really make you happy?

John: Hm.

Jim: I think you should stick with us today, ’cause we’re gonna talk about true happiness and true joy.

John: Well, Dr. Henry Cloud is back with us today. He’s been on this broadcast a number of times. He’s a clinical psychologist, president of Cloud Townsend Resources, the author of several best-sellers, including a book he co-authored with Dr. John Townsend called Boundaries.


Jim: Today we’re gonna talk with Henry about another book he’s written, The Law of Happiness and I … I love that title because it draws everybody in. First let me say, welcome back to “Focus on the Family,” Henry.

Henry Cloud: It’s good to be here, guys. Always enjoy it.

Jim: Now when you’re in the airport and that book is there, I’m sure people love buyin’ a book that says something about happiness, The Law of Happiness. Is it flyin’ off the shelves? (Laughing)

Henry: Well, it is because there’s so much interest, you know, in the topic. And actually, it’s an interesting story, because do you remember the book The Secret.

Jim: Vaguely.

Henry: Well, it was a New Age book that you know, Oprah and Larry King and everybody was out there talkin’ about, that there is a secret in the universe that makes everybody happy and thrive. And so, the publisher of The Secret came to me and said, “Well, what’s the Christian secret?” And so, I said, “Well, you know what? I would love to write about the Christian secret to thriving.” And that’s where this series came from.

And what I did was, I spent a couple of years really deep in the research on thriving and happiness. And what does the secular research, scientific research tell us about what is it that makes people happy? And I don’t know how to describe this, guys, but it was like being born again, again. Because when I spent, you know, I was deep in that research and it was like reading the Scriptures. Because the secular research proves over and over and over, the things that actually make peoplehappy are exactly the things that God tells us to do.

Jim: Well, and Henry again, the Apostle Paul points that out in the book of Romans and talking about the natural law, that people that don’t know the Lord actually are living under the principles of God, because He created us.

Henry: Well, yeah. You know, gravity works whether or not you know the Person who created it. And it’s so fascinating, because what the research shows and our culture does not get this at all. But the research shows that only 10 percent of our happiness comes from anything circumstantial, whether I’m rich or poor, you know, get the job I want or don’t, married or single, get to live in the neighborhood I want to or not, get the car, whatever, we get about a 10 percent bump in our happiness when somethin’ circumstantial goes well, that we’ve been really dying to get. But then we go right back to a basic set point of who we are as a person and that’s what’s fascinating.

And then they start to break that down and there are some temperament aspects of that, but the huge set of variance in that, the factors that actually make people happy are a set of life practices that the Bible talks about that people do and that’s what makes the difference.

Jim: So, those life principles, that makes up the other 90 percent.

Henry: Well, the 90 percent is made up of the life principles and the ways that we live, the practices, plus some temperament things, you know, biology, you know, if you’ve ever been to a nursery, you see some little babies are like content with the world already and some are like, “Aah! Aah! Aah!” you know–

Jim: Right out of the womb.

Henry: –having a bad day, right. (Laughter) But what we know about these practices is, they can change our level of happiness. And that’s exactly what God tells us. And the reason I entitled the book, The Law of Happiness was, it goes back to the law of God. That God, in Deuteronomy 6, He said He’s given us these laws, these ways to live life and if we follow them, it says and it’s translated “prosper.”

Now it doesn’t mean just, you know, financially prosperity. What it means is an overall sense, the Hebrew word there means “an overall sense of well-being and thriving.” And that’s the life that God wants us to have, even when we go through hard times. It’s not like everything’s gonna go well, but you’re gonna thrive, even in the difficulties of life, when we’re living out these practices.

Jim: And I think every human being craves that place. It’s a place of peace, which the Bible also talks about.

Henry: That’s right.

Jim: You’ll have My peace. Let’s say right up front though, Henry, there are people who struggle with their brain chemistry. They–

Henry: Sure.

Jim: –they suffer from depression.

Henry: Yeah.

Jim: They have suicidal thoughts. Let’s recognize that right up front, that there are those factors that–

Henry: Right.

Jim: –and some are listening who are gonna say, “I can’t find that kind of peace, that kind of joy.” Speak to that person.

Henry: Yeah and sadly, Jim, even past that, there are those around people who are clinically depressed that say, “Well, if you would just pray more.” Or “If you would just do the things the Bible says, then you would be okay.” That’s not what we’re talking about here, because there is a thing called biological clinical depression, that does have to do with brain chemistry and somebody can actually be doing all the right things.

You know, and until the brain chemistry gets back to normal, then the depression can be very, very bad. So, what we’re not saying is, you know, that a simple set of practices is the cure for clinical depression. You know, you still need the treatment that you need.

But what we also know is, that whether we have that history or not, that these practices actually are a part of making us all thrive better, whether we are depressed or anxious or have some other, you know, kind of emotional illness or not. These things are built into the very way that God has created [us].

Jim: Let me ask this. You might be felling that you don’t know whether you ‘re happy or sad. Henry, speak to that person who doesn’t even know the characteristics of happiness. They’re muddled in this. What does it mean to be a happy, joyful person?

Henry: Well, there’s a lot of definitions [sic], but the way that I think about it and the way I think the scientific research backs up as well, is that happiness really has to do with an overall sense that life is good and that you have a sense of well-being, no matter what life throws at you. Remember the old hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul?”

Jim: Uh-hm.

John: Yeah.

Henry: And when we talk about happiness, and the research shows this, you know, it is not your circumstances. It has to do with this basic orientation towards life and these basic practices that make for a stable sense of well-being.

Jim: In your book, The Law of Happiness, you share a story that really caught my attention, about your daughter, Olivia, who at an early age, did an act of kindness. I–

Henry: Yeah.

Jim: –I don’t recall exactly. Share that–

Henry: Yeah.

Jim: –with us though.

Henry: Well, she would’ve been probably 3 1/2 or so, somethin’ like that. And she was goin’ to her little preschool class and we had been talkin’ about sharing as a concept. And I said, “Okay, Olivia, today I want you to share somethin’ and we’ll talk about it when you come home.” She goes, “Okay.”

So, she comes back and I said, “So, how did you do?” And she said, “Well, you know, I had a cookie and the girl sitting next to me didn’t, so I broke part of mine off and I gave it to her.” I said, “Olivia, that’s exactly what we’re talkin’ about. That’s sharing. Way to go.” And I was so happy for her.

And then she looks at me and she goes, “Daddy,” and I said, “What?” And she said, “What is it?” I said, “What’s what?” She goes, “What is it in here?”

Jim: Pointing to her chest.

Henry: Pointing to her little chest. And I said, “I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about. What are you talkin’ about?” She goes, “In here, Daddy, what is it in here? I felt really warm in here.” And so, she’s pointing at her little chest and my eyes started to water and then I looked at her and I said, “Olivia, that’s love. God made you that way, that when you share, that’s what it feels like. It feels warm inside.” And before I totally lost it, I turned into the psychologist and “Well, it’s because your brain chemistry is beginning to change (Laughter) as you do acts of kindness.”

Jim: Let’s get analytical.

Henry: Yeah, but it was such a moment of just seeing, even a child begins to realize the benefits of the ways that God has wired these things into us, that if we have these practices in life and create a life around His ways, we are going to thrive.

Jim: And it is reinforcing the very statement that you made, that these things are true, because God created us and He knows how our hearts are wired, just what you’re saying in the beginning, That’s why in Scripture, you know what? Often science winds up with the things that we know that are true. It doesn’t refute it. It collaborates with it and that’s a good thing.

Let’s talk about some of those other laws that you mentioned. One is the law of giving. That’s a good thing. You know, from a parenting standpoint, Henry, what I liked about your illustration is the fact that parents, we need to be intentional about encouraging our kids to give. It’s not natural in the human being, the little boy or girl to want to give up something that they like, like a cookie.

Henry: Like a cookie.

Jim: But for them to give something that they like and the reward that they get, that’s something we need to encourage as parents. Let’s talk about other attributes, other laws of happiness. What is there along with giving?

Henry: Well, you know, the research shows that there is a handful of ’em that you hear God talkin’ about over and over and over. One of the big ones is how connected people are. You know, and what I mean is, not you just have people around you, but that you really have some people that are close to you that know the state of your soul all the time.

And what they find in the research is, literally from the womb to the tomb, people that have support systems that are close like small groups in churches or Bible studies or that, you know, the couple of friends that are your prayer partners, the difference in their health, the difference in all sorts of I mean, heart attack rates and recovery rates and mood disorders and all this kind of stuff is so connected to how connected people are.

Another one is whether or not people have goals. Now I’m not sayin’ everybody should be so anal and have the list of, you know, 46 things they’re tryin’ to accomplish. But the brain is wired that when we are having a purpose and when we’re having specific goals that we are working towards, exactly like God talks to us about having a calling and a purpose and being fruitful that, that is a totally different mind-set and a totally different physiology that happens to people if they’re using their gifts to accomplish things.

Jim: Hm.

Henry: Happiness does not come to passive people, sitting on a couch with a remote control. In fact, here’s what’s interesting, the research shows that the average mood of a person watching a sitcom is mildly depressed.

Jim: Tell me why we gravitate toward that though. Why are we comfortable sitting in front of the TV and watching that if it actually is working against us, against our happiness?

Henry: Well–

Jim: Why is that?

Henry: –it brings us to another one of the factors. Another thing that the research shows is, that people who have an active orientation towards life as opposed to a passive orientation, have a much greater degree of happiness. And I think we’ve got a culture and I worry about this when I see what’s happening with families and kids. We have a culture that is training people that you know, outside stimuli are gonna come and make you happy, like the next funny show or the next movie or the next game, that it’s all outside of ourselves.

And what I like to see parents doing and adults doing is, turn off the TV and go do something that engages you in life. One of the phrases I love to say to kids is, “You’re responsible for your own fun, so go create some.” And a lot of times, you know, the couch potato life is a very happiness altering life, because of the passivity and the lack of engagement.

Jim: Hm.

John: Dr. Cloud, there is something that just naturally comes to mind as you say that and that is kind of the other end of the spectrum and the folks who are too busy. In fact, they are overactive.

Henry: Right.

John: And it seems like they’re trying to avoid something.

Henry: Right and that is a good point. It’s not just activity. What it is, is it’s engagement. And what the research shows is that when you are finding what you really love and what you care about and this can be a hobby. It can be an act of service. It can be volunteering at your church. It can be your work. It can be a million different things, but it’s not just stayin’ busy and distraction. And we have a culture that is keeping us way too busy instead of finding the things that we have passionfor. And God has wired each of us differently to have a different passion. And when you’re engaged in that, those are happy people.

Jim: Hm.

Henry: And I love to see it when people integrate their spiritual life in community with people that love to do the same things. Like what a greater kind of way to, you know, to grow a small group around the things of faith, that if those same guys or women are out there and they go fishing together or you know, they play golf together. Or they do the things that they’re passionate about instead of being couch potatoes.

Jim: Yeah, that’s good encouragement. I’m Jim Daly. You’re listening to our guest, Dr. Henry Cloud, his book, The Law of Happiness. John Fuller is here with me. You know, Henry, when I think about these things, it might simply be that passive nature for us, it’s comfortable, but it’s not healthy. Is that what you’re saying?

Henry: It is very comfortable, because what it does and this is another factor, Jim, it’s … it keeps us from taking steps that scare us. And one of the things that the research shows is, that if you’re really gonna thrive, you’ve gotta be stretched a little out of your comfort zone.

And what happy people do is, they’re always kinda goin’ to the next level of somethin’, oh, my goodness! I gotta go try somethin’. It’s gonna be a little scary. I might embarrass myself. I gotta go take a class and what if I get the wrong answer. Or somethin’ that gets them, you know, a little engaged, well, then you’re awake, but what happens is, trying new things threatens us.

Jim: Hm.

Henry: And it may be as simple as joining a Bible study and giving your opinion. See, that’s a stretching experience, to speak up. It may be with your spouse to go deeper in a conversation. That’s a stretching experience. God has made us to be growing. And whether that’s growing the next step in our career, growing the next step intellectually, growing the next step in a skill, that’s an active thing, but it causes us to get a little uncomfortable and that’s a good thing.

Jim: Well, think of Peter that first time, saying, “Gold and silver have I none, but what I do have for you, I’ll share with you” and that’s Jesus Christ. That took boldness on his part with a crippled man and … and the Lord answered that prayer obviously, but that was a big step of faith.

Henry: Yeah. I love to say to people and I do this with my own kids, you know, very often in the Sunday night meeting, the family meeting, I’ll say, “Okay, what are your stretch goals for the week?” And I want to know what they’re going to try to do this next week. And it might be in a relationship. It might be havin’ a hard conversation. It might be in a sport. It might be in academics, but what are you gonna do this week that’s gonna push you a little farther than you’ve ever gone before? Because then we’re a little out over our skis and we’re engaged and we’re awake and we’re growing.

Jim: In terms of that law of happiness principle you talked about as stretching ourselves, there is a kind of a comparison trap that we–

Henry: Oh.

Jim: –get into. And that keeps us in our shell, ’cause we don’t want to step out and fail.

Henry: Jim, it’s also one of the big factors that the research shows and I included it in the book. It’s one of the chapters. Happy people and this is scientific research, happy people do not compare themselves to others.

Jim: It doesn’t matter to them.

Henry: No, they’re doin’ what they do because it’s coming from an intrinsic, internal love for it and they don’t really care how it is compared to somebody else. Now go to the Bible. Let me give you just two quick examples. Galatians 6 says, “Look at your own work and what you’re doin’ and be proud of yourself, not in comparison to others,” right out of Galatians 6.

Go over to the Parable of the Talents and he gives each of ’em a different amount of talent and he doesn’t say, “Okay, the one with two, I’m gonna grade you. You gotta get up to the one that has five.” They’re graded on their own gifts, their own abilities, their own context.

Jim: How they applied ’em.

Henry: How they applied ’em, how you engage and invest, that’s what the research shows. Happy people aren’t really worried about the Jone’s; they’re worried about themselves.

Jim: But even, you know, it’s fascinating, ’cause even the disciples were havin’ that little spat.

Henry: Exactly.

Jim: And Jesus Himself got into that with the mother of the disciples who wanted her sons to sit at (Chuckling) His–

Henry: Yeah.

Jim: –right and left hand. Man.

Henry: Sometimes people are taught in their family of origin to compare themselves to others. And that can be a very destructive dynamic that they have to overcome. And God tells us basically in a lot of ways, that He’s called us to our own individual path, with our own gifts and our own strengths and our own weaknesses and that we’re to find our fulfillment in those particular gifts and those particular contexts.

Jim: Let me ask you this question though, Henry. How does a person realize that I am way over the line here? ‘Cause we get into our daily routine and sometimes we block out the work of the Holy Spirit speaking to our heart. How can we look at ourselves honestly and know that we’re way over the line when it comes to our behavior and how we are comparing ourselves to others? What are some of those telltale signs that should put the brakes on for you?

Henry: Well, I think some of the signs are, if we either get anxious or we’re comparing ourselves to others and we think, I gotta be like that and it freaks us out a little bit and you have an anxiety reaction to it. Or on the other side, where you feel defeated by your comparisons. You know, one of the things the research shows is, when I look at you and then I look at myself and I look at some area that you’re performing in that I’m not as good in and I start to feel defeated, that’s the bad dynamic.

Now let’s flip that for a moment, because there is a very important factor called “modeling” and being inspired by the performance of others. So, what we want to do sometimes is, that’s why we have community. That, you know the Bible is clear. It says to spur one another on to good words and to challenge each other and Paul says, “Be imitators of me;” we need to be looking at others more in their practices, not their outcomes.

Jim: Hm.

Henry: And if somebody is diligent and they’re applying themselves and we look at that and say, “I could do that. I could apply myself and I could do this” and not judge ourselves by the outcomes, but model the behavior of what thriving people do and don’t compare yourself to the scorecard.

Jim: And so often in that comparison, what I call “the ugly fruit of Galatians,” the fruit of enemy of our souls appears. That’s jealousy and bitterness and anger toward others–

Henry: And envy.

Jim: –and envy. Isn’t it interesting that the exact opposite of what God wants in our heart shows up when we do compare and we do look at other people and judge our value against them?

Henry: That’s right and it’s interesting that you bring up that list, because one of the other factors the research shows is the opposite of envy. The opposite of envy is gratitude. See envy defines the good by that which I don’t have. So, if I look out there, well, you know, I see this car or I see this house or I see this job or I see this relationship and say, “Well, you know, I won’t be happy until I have that.” And it’s only defined by that which I don’t have. But then as soon as I get it, I’m not happy, because envy only looks at what it doesn’t have.

Gratitude is the opposite and God talks about gratitude all the time. And gratitude has to do with being thankful and savoring and loving what we do have.

Jim: Henry, talk about forgiveness in this context, because that’s an important element, too and science again, is showing so much that when you’re able to forgive you’re healthier.

Henry: One of the things the research shows is, that forgivers are happier people. Now, you know, we shouldn’t have to have research tell us this, right? Think about it this way. If you walk out in the yard and you go through mud or slop or trash or garbage and it’s on your boots and you drag it into your house, what you’ve done is, you’ve really screwed up a nice place.

Well, that’s the way time is. When we take the stuff we’ve walked through in life and we’re dragging it forward into what could be a nice new day or a nice new setting, then we’re screwing up the future by bringing the past with us. And what the Bible says very specifically is, there’s two ways to deal with this.

It’s grief and it’s forgiveness. Grief has to do with getting the pain out of what hurt in the past causes and we have to express that pain, but also forgiveness means letting go of the grudge that we’re holding against someone or whoever it was that did it to us. And what that does it, it cleans out feet off to go into a new day and have a better tomorrow.

Jim: Henry, also you look at that Scripture that talks about faith, hope and love.

Henry: Yeah.

Jim: We’ve hit really hope and love in a good way. Talk about faith and the element of faith and the role it plays in our lives.

Henry: Jim, it’s a very, very powerful finding in the research, that people that have faith thrive in a number of areas across the board, especially in health and well-being. And when they measured this out, in fact, it even loads sometimes on longevity.

And people that have a deep faith orientation and practice their faith, as opposed to, you know, check the box; I’m this or that, but if they are actively involved in the disciplines of faith and faith development, they have very, very, very different outcomes in terms of happiness.

In the book I talk about a story of my own father, who when he was 40-years-old, he had, you know, he was way overworked and overstressed and started a business and it was growing and he was really under the pile and he gained a bunch of weight and he collapsed in the theater one day. And they took him to the hospital and they told him that it was his heart and he had about six months at best to live.

Jim: Hm.

Henry: There was nothin’ that they could do and to get his affairs in order. So, he went from there a couple hundred miles away to a big teaching hospital where they spent a month looking at him and the doctors came back and they said, “You know what? There’s nothin’ wrong with your heart. You’re gonna be okay, if you change your life.”

Jim: Hm.

Henry: “It’s your life practices, the way you’re living and overstressed and your health and all of that, that is causing this.” And so, what he did at that point in his life, was he made a different faith commitment. And that was a few years before I was born. I was born in his 40s and so, I never knew the old him.

But what I can tell you is, that what he told me, that what changed his life was, when he made a commitment to God to, every day he would leave the office and he would take all of his problems and he would hand them to God and he would say, “These are yours.”

He would go home and the first thing my dad did when he came home every day is, he would sit in his rocking chair and he would have his quiet time and he would read his Bible. And he did that every day. I watched it and we buried him a few years ago at 94.

Jim: Hm, 94!

Henry: Ninety-four.

Jim: What a great story.

Henry: And it was his faith development in his disciplines, because what’s interesting, Jim is, from that he became a giver and he began to use his gifts in the community and he began to volunteer in all sorts of ways with Meals on Wheels and the Salvation Army–

Jim: Wow.

Henry: –and many, many things that are actually exactly what the research shows.

Jim: Well, it sounded like he blossomed late in life. I mean, and that’s doable.

Henry: Which ended up being kind of early in life when (Laughter) you live to be 94, right?

Jim: (Laughing) That’s right.

Henry: And it doesn’t mean that there aren’t illnesses and diseases, you know, that cause early deaths in people, but what it does mean is, exactly what God tell us, that no matter what our life path is, that there is a way to go through that path that leads to greater thriving than not.

Jim: You know, this has been I hope, an inspirational discussion about what true happiness is, true joy, where it’s found in the Creator of our heart, of our emotions, of our very being. I mean, God knows us because He made us and He made us in this specific way. And Dr. Cloud, you’ve done a great job in your book, The Law of Happiness, to draw out these truths that are backed up by science.

Henry: Yeah.

Jim: That’s what I love.

Henry: Well, I tried to do it that way, because I wanted to write a book that Christians could give to their non-believing friends, that shows that you know, all this faith stuff we talked about, it’s not pie in the sky. It’s scientifically backed and it leads to doing better in life.

Jim: Well, and that’s a good reason for you to pick up the book and give it to your neighbor or your coworker. I’d encourage you to stretch yourself that way and do just that. And again, Dr. Cloud, thank you so much for being with us on “Focus on the Family.”

Henry: It’s always good to be here. Thank you, guys.

John: Well, some great stuff from a really great guest, Dr. Henry Cloud on today’s “Focus on the Family” and that book, The Law of Happiness really is a great read and I hope you’ll take Jim’s suggestion to heart and that you’ll get a copy to pass along to somebody that may not really understand the spiritual life, but is seeking real happiness and we’ve got details about the book and the CD or download of today’s program at or call us and we’ll tell you more. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY

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The Law of Happiness

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