The Art of Pastoral Flourishing

More graduate schools of theology are spending significant research dollars investigating the science of well-being for those who serve as pastors.  Two significant camps, the Roman Catholic University of Notre Dame and the United Methodist Duke Divinity School, have provided papers outlining the nature of well-being for those who are in the caring profession. Other seminaries and graduate schools of theology, including my own at Azusa Pacific University, have designed their entire Master of Divinity program around pastoral sustainability and personal well-being while maintaining theological integrity, spiritual vitality, and ministerial competencies.

The studies have brought a great deal of clarity for us who mentor current and future shepherds.  Well-being for a pastor demands significant doses of “daily happiness” and “thriving” for a flourishing life in ministry.  In research literature, daily happiness is often referred to as hedonic or subjective well-being. Hedonic well-being, not to be confused with hedonism where pleasure is the only good, is simply the formula of “Daily Affect (Mood and Emotions) + Life Satisfaction.”   

Our moods, often difficult to ascertain the primary reason for our levels of moodiness, are weaker than the stronger feeling of emotions.   As a result, our moods may affect our behaviors and thoughts but it is easier to lose awareness of that state of being.  However, emotions nearly always will have a recognizable source or target for that feeling.  When your favorite football team has lost or you have heard an inspired message from a speaker or you have reacted tearfully to the poignant scene in a movie, you can see how the emotion influences your thoughts and actions.

Daily happiness is simply moments when you are experiencing the presence of positive moods and emotions and unhappiness is the absence of positive moods and emotions.  Since you are a human being, your moods and emotions can vary from day-to-day to several times within the day.  An interesting study by the University of Notre Dame has indicated that most people experience a modestly-happy morning, followed by a dip in daily happiness as they travel to work, then happiness elevates when they go to lunch. Without dipping significantly, their happiness again increases in the afternoon as they move closer to the end of work.  No wonder 70% of the employees in the United States are disengaged with their duties at their place of employment!  The Notre Dame study has indicated that a healthy level of daily happiness is a 3 to 1 ratio of positive-to-negative moods and emotions.

Moods/Emotions are significant in determining daily happiness but not the only factor.  Life Satisfaction is the second component for hedonic well-being.  Life satisfaction is defined as “the extent to which a person is satisfied with their life in the current moment.” The primary spheres of life satisfaction would be work, family, social, economic, and religious.  Because we deal with people, experience aspects of life where we are not in control, our life satisfaction levels can change depending on our circumstances and our view of God, others, and ourselves.

Daily Happiness =  Moods/Emotions + Life Satisfaction

So let’s pursue daily happiness!  Not so fast my friends.  Here is the “kicker” to the research. 


1.    Intentions behind the Choices Determine Daily Happiness

Not only are we often inaccurate about what truly makes us happy, our choices toward becoming happy alone do not increase our happiness.  Studies have indicated that the intentions behind our choices play a far greater role in daily happiness.  For example, expressing genuine gratitude instead of saying something to another for optic management or ingratiating yourself to another for selfish purposes will create greater daily happiness.  So, you have to be genuine in your intentions, not superficial or manipulative.

2.    Artificial Methods for Happiness Eventually Will Lead to Less Happiness

Chronic use of alcohol and/or drugs, manipulating others for fame or being consumed with money will diminish and eventually can destroy your capacity to experience daily happiness.  These methods often create short-term highs of happiness, but become corrosive when reality hits us how destructive the practice has been to our pocketbook, our relationships, and ourselves.

3.    Sincerity in Appreciating our Blessings Increase our Daily Happiness.

Sincerity is the quality of being free from pretense, deceit, or hypocrisy.   Fake it until you make it doesn’t really work here.  So take a moment today to really look at all the gifts and graces you have been given in your life.