Pastoral Perspectives

Are we under-happy because we are …?

According to the results of the National Workplace Happiness Survey 2014, Singapore’s overall workplace happiness index is 59, which falls into the band “Under Happy”, between “Unhappy” and “Happy”. The survey found that happiness is related to one’s perception of their job and their experience at work. Thus, when a company or organization is able to promote a sense of pride and achievement and other positive emotions amongst its employees, it will invariably influence how happy its employees will feel.

As Christians, what are we to make of the findings? For starters, it is a helpful reminder that happiness is often not tied to monetary remuneration. Although no employee will begrudge a pay-rise, the monthly salary that one receives is seldom what brings us greatest satisfaction. Here, we learn from the survey that the industries with the highest rankings are charity, social services and education while those with the lowest rankings include logistics and supply chain, banking and financial services. While some may point out that the tuition industry and children enrichment centres in Singapore these days can be a multi-million dollar business, the fact remains that those who made their fortunes are more likely to be found in the other sectors.

Undoubtedly, money can only bring happiness up to a certain point. While Scriptures affirm that our wealth comes from God (Deut 8:18, Prov 10:22), we are reminded to guard our hearts from the love of money as it is the root of all evil (1 Tim 6:9-10). In addition, believers will need to honestly reflect on our motivations regarding our career. After all, it is so easy to look to our career for significance and security instead of God.

Understandably, when our career becomes an idol, we may find ourselves increasingly coming under its control to the extent of becoming anxious and stressed out. Due to our faulty reasoning, we think that if we lose our jobs or have to suffer a pay-cut to change job, we will lose our significance and miss out on the comforts of life. This would also explain why some would rather remain unhappy at their workplaces than to move on to another company. This is because in their opinion, the money and whatever benefits that their jobs bring them far outweighs whatever sacrifices they have to make, even if it is cost their physical and emotional well-being, family life as well as relationship with God. If anyone of us should find himself growing weary or driven by restlessness, he should honestly evaluate his priorities and ask, “Why MUST I have this thing in order to be fulfilled and significant?”

To a large extent, our happiness is connected to our perspective of life. As Michael Ramsden, a Christian apologist observed, “we are not made happy by what we acquire but by what we appreciate”. So for example, if an individual thinks highly of his contribution to the company, he is likely to be happier even though other colleagues have similar responsibilities at their workplace. On the other hand, if someone feels that he deserves better than what he has received, he is more likely to be “under happy” even when others are receiving the same salary or treatment at their workplace.

While both Christians and atheists have much to be grateful for, it is the Christian who has Someone to be grateful to. As Christians, we acknowledge that we are eternally indebted to a sovereign God who has graciously given us everything. Unfortunately, there are times when we lose sight of this glorious truth. We forget that it is God who provides us employment and who enables us to do our jobs well. As a result of pride, we fail to realise that it is not our own intellect or our experience that helped us land that choice position.

Our biblical worldview also informs us that we are the creature and God is the Creator. Therefore, we should not go around living as if we are the centre of the universe and expecting that everything else exists to serve us. Sometimes, Christians are just as guilty of having this sense of entitlement and expecting to enjoy a certain level of comfort and pleasure in life. Thus, when such expectations go unmet, we end up grumbling and complaining about our workplaces.

To be sure, no one is suggesting that a person should remain in a toxic work environment or to wallow in a state of misery or meaninglessness. Rather, Christians should prayerfully discern God’s will and seek God’s guidance in understanding what is at the root of our unhappiness. More importantly, we should strive to maintain our Christian witness and understand that God can use whatever situations to mold us and refine our character (Isa 48:10).

As the year comes to close, hopefully, those of us who have a job are looking forward to more than just the year-end bonus. As R C Sproul Jr so aptly puts it, “gratitude isn’t the fruit of happiness, but it roots”. And for Christians, Advent is a good season to start cultivating a heart of thankfulness (1 Thess 5:17-18, Eph 5:20), beginning with all that has been promised in Christ.

Rev Edwin Wong

December 7, 2014