March 1 – Happy? But is it Well With Your Soul?

According to the headline, people living in Hawaii are the happiest in the nation and those in West Virginia are the least happy.  Pennsylvanians are just a bit less happy than most Americans, though by holding down spot #29 on the list we’re happier than we were last year when we were #31.  We are just slightly happier than our friends in New Jersey. If you live in Lancaster, you’re the happiest of all Pennsylvanians and those of us in Philadelphia tend to be happier than those in Pittsburgh. Oh, and by the way, those of us in the Eighth Congressional district are happier than those in any other PA district. That’s what the poll says.

The Gallup Organization has just issued the latest results from its “Well-Being Index,” and you can poke around the sites to discover more findings you don’t quite believe. The Well-Being Index is derived from a massive and on-going polling effort involving hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. The researchers ask people across the country to evaluate their lives on a zero to ten scale, suffering to thriving, and to rate themselves according to a variety of standards and behaviors. Then the numbers are sorted, crunched and analyzed to produce the Index. Areas covered in the survey include:

  • Life Evaluation (current situation and anticipated 5-year situation)
  • Emotional Health
  • Physical Health
  • Healthy Behavior (you get points for eating vegetables)
  • Work Environment
  • Basic Access (to those things that provide for well-being)

I have no idea why we Pennsylvanians outscore our across the Delaware River neighbors in New Jersey 66.5 to 66.1 on a 1-100 scale, or exactly why Number One Hawaii gets a 71.1 while poor old West Virginia manages nothing higher than a 61.3.

So Gallup releases its data on Sequester Eve and the newspapers get a fluff headline on an otherwise discouraging day. The point of the Well-Being Index is worth noting. Hope for the future and smiling and laughter, enough sleep and a healthy diet, satisfying work and decent health care all contribute to an overall sense of well-being. Did we need to survey 350,000 to learn that? Maybe not.

But consider this finding buried in the data. We Americans rate our basic access (to clean water, decent health care, good housing, etc.) as our highest category of well-being (82.7). Our life evaluation – suffering to thriving, now and anticipated five years from now – is our lowest (47.8). Not all of us are able to say that we are thriving in our current life situation or that we anticipate things getting much better. Such suffering cannot be solved by legislation; to sequester or not is a meaningless issue for those who have little hope.

Romans 12:15 with its rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep is particularly pertinent in our 47.8 world.

I’ve taken a look at the questions Gallup asks its respondents. I don’t know exactly how they weight and score the answers, but the questions themselves look pretty straight forward. I’d like to think my well-being index would be better than 66.5, but who knows.

One question that Gallup doesn’t ask – they wouldn’t know what to do with the information if they had it – is the 3 John 1:2, “Is it well with your soul?”

The headlines have translated well-being into happiness, and that’s okay, especially on a day when all the headlines are about a sad thing called the Sequester. But happiness, like a bluebird, is likely to flit away. Our well-being index scores go up and down depending on our circumstance – threatened by a bad boss, enhanced by remembering to eat our vegetables.

According to John, wellness of soul depends on one thing: that we are walking in the truth. Is it well with your soul, that is, are you walking in the truth? When Thomas asked Jesus how they might know the way to the Father, Jesus answered, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

Is it well with your soul?

See you Sunday