The gospel of happiness

“What is real happiness? How can I experience it? How can I live it?”

As Christopher Kaczor notes in the Introduction to The Gospel of Happiness, these are questions that every thoughtful person asks. Where, however, might a thoughtful person go for help in answering these questions?

Thoughtful Christians, of course, go to the Bible, the lives of the saints, and the teachings of the Church.

They might supplement what they learn there with the works of the philosophers: Plato and Aristotle from the ancients, Augustine and Aquinas, the Christian theologians. But they won’t typically go to the discipline of psychology.

For one thing, traditional psychology has focused less on a positive path to happiness than on addressing the serious negatives that afflict many people’s lives: depression and other mental disorders.

For another, psychology has been—although with exceptions—a largely secular and sometimes even anti-religious academic domain.

Yet Kaczor noticed that in recent years many psychologists had embraced the positive: “Positive psychology” is the name given to a new approach that Martin Seligman initiated and that an increasing number of practitioners have pursued since the late 1990s.

Positive psychology has attempted to find empirical answers to the question of what makes people happier and more resilient, and by what methods individuals can move in more positive directions.

To be sure, even the practitioners of this new form of psychology are generally not also practicing Christians; Seligman himself doubts the existence of God.

But Kaczor was struck by the ways in which the new positive approach tended both to converge with traditional Christian practice and to provide empirical evidence that traditional Christian practice works.

Moreover, to judge from the findings Kaczor reports, positive psychology offers the kind of concrete practical advice that is often missing from Christian moral theology (although such advice has been found to a greater extent in the last century in the writings of leaders of Catholic lay movements such as Opus Dei and Communion and Liberation). Continue reading


  • MercatorNet, an article by Christopher O. Tollefsen, Professor in the Department of Philosophy of the University of South Carolina.
  • Image: Mind and Spirit
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