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Do Pope Francis’ 10 Tips For Happiness Check Out With Research?

Photo courtesy of Agencia Brazil via Wikimedia Commons

Pope Francis gifted the world with ten tips for happiness on July 27th, 2014, based on his personal experiences, lived wisdom, and a keen insight that seems to extend beyond popeliness.

Here are his tips for happiness, augmented with research and the quotes of other wise people. Does his advice check out with science and other great thinkers?

1. “Live and let live.” Everyone should be guided by this principle, the pope said, which is similar to an expression in Rome:  “Move forward and let others do the same.”

  • Henry Thorough claimed that to “regret deeply is to live afresh.” But C.S. Lewis said “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind,” more in accordance with the Pope’s philosophy.
  • Studies find that dwelling in the past has a negative impact on mind and body, sometimes resulting in depression, chronic stress, or shortened life span.

2. “Be giving of yourself to others.” People need to be open and generous toward others, he said, because “if you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.”

  • Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran’s words align with the Pope’s: “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give,” he wrote.
  • A Harvard Business School study found that happy people give and altruism makes people happy in a circular fashion, but that advertising the benefits of charity might have perverse effects.

3. “Proceed calmly” in life. The pope, who used to teach high school literature, used the example of an Argentine novel by Ricardo Guiraldes, in which the protagonist — gaucho Don Segundo Sombra — looks back on how he lived his life.

  • In Persuasion, Jane Austen wrote “none of us want to be in calm waters all our life.”
  • Living with stress, on the other hand (the polar opposite of “proceeding calmly”) can contribute to heart disease, asthma, and accelerated aging.

4. A healthy sense of leisure. The Pope said “consumerism has brought us anxiety,” and told parents to set aside time to play with their children and turn off the TV when they sit down to eat.

  • Not only does consumerism bring anxiety, but research shows it is also associated with depression and antisocial behavior. Still, “retail therapy” can have positive effects on mood, and the act of buying experiences has been shown to bring people joy.
  • As for TV and family time, watching television during meals has been associated with less nutritious diets in children, and “free play” is hypothesized to be as important for adults as for kids.

5. Sundays should be holidays. Workers should have Sundays off because “Sunday is for family,” he said.

  • “If God hadn’t rested on Sunday, he would have had time to finish the world,” Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez said.
  • But truthfully, having one or two days of rest is vital to mental health, as working more than 40 hours a week makes people less sharp and leads to negative health risks. Some even advocate for a four day work week.

6. Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people. “We need to be creative with young people. If they have no opportunities they will get into drugs” and be more vulnerable to suicide, he said.

  • Young people (teens, specifically) are working less, partly by choice. But they are also taking less drugs than past generations, though suicide rates are about the same as always.
  • Many of the youngest adult generation are struggling to find well-paying full-time jobs that match their education level. Unemployment among adults is correlated with greater substance abuse, and those looking for jobs are twice as likely to take their own lives as those already employed.

7. Respect and take care of nature. Environmental degradation “is one of the biggest challenges we have,” he said. “I think a question that we’re not asking ourselves is: ‘Isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?'”

  • Mahatma Ghandi aligned with the pope’s sentiments when he said “What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.”
  • 97% of climate scientists agree that man-made harm to the environment is changing the world for the worse.

8. Stop being negative. “Needing to talk badly about others indicates low self-esteem. That means, ‘I feel so low that instead of picking myself up I have to cut others down,'” the Pope said. “Letting go of negative things quickly is healthy.”

  • “You just can’t live that negative way. You know what I mean. Make way for the positive day. Cause it’s a new day…” sang Bob Marley.
  • Being positive is indeed healthy, resulting in a longer life span, better coping skills, and resistance to the common cold, says the Mayo Clinic.

9. Don’t proselytise; respect others’ beliefs. “We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyses: ‘I am talking with you in order to persuade you,’ No. Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The church grows by attraction, not proselytising,” the Pope said.

  • Studies have also shown that substantive conversation makes people happy, as opposed to agendas, and that compassion for others aids well-being.
  • The pope’s advice on dialogue over conversion may also be applicable for romantic dating, social situations, and business negotiation.

10. Work for peace. “We are living in a time of many wars,” he said, and “the call for peace must be shouted. Peace sometimes gives the impression of being quiet, but it is never quiet, peace is always proactive” and dynamic.

  • Actually, in comparison to centuries past, researchers say modern times have experienced less war than ever due to better diplomacy, human rights, and democracy.
  • Though “shouting” for peace may not necessarily bring it about, activism can be very effective. It also makes people feel better and improves psychological well-being.

Verdict: Pope Francis’ happiness tips, for the most part, are not only good for well-being — they’re beneficial to health, too.  This is evidence that advice, when valuable, can hold truth both inside and outside of religious faith.

Originally published August 1, 2014. 

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