Admirers and opponents alike agree on at least one thing concerning the late President Ronald Reagan -- he was a happy man.
Having written a book on happiness ("Happiness Is a Serious Problem," HarperCollins) and lectured on the subject on every continent (yes, including Antarctica), I would like to offer six explanations for the late president's happiness.
First, he was a religious man. By this I mean two things: He had a deep connection to God, and a faith in a specific religion, in his case Christianity. Both are very helpful to most people's happiness. There are, of course, people who believe in God but not in any religion, and in terms of attaining happiness, belief in God even without religion is far superior to no belief in God. But believing in a religion adds a great deal. It provides a way to express that connection to God, a community with whom to express it, and holy books of wisdom to guide one's life.
Second, he had a deep American identity. As strongly as he believed in his religion, he believed in his country. He was therefore doubly rooted, as a Christian and as an American. Having roots, a sense of belonging to a group, is another vital aspect of happiness.
Third, his religion and his American identity both gave him purpose, another indispensable element to happiness. His Judeo-Christian values imbued in him a calling to lead people, to fight evil, and to glorify God with his life. His American identity gave him an equally fervent sense of purpose -- to preserve and further America as a bright shining light to mankind. He believed in American exceptionalism, that America is called to play a role on the world stage with or without the approval of "world opinion."
Fourth, thanks to his belief in God, he had an additional source of happiness -- belief that life has meaning. Meaning and purpose are not necessarily the same. It is surely possible to be an atheist and have a strong sense of purpose -- for example, a physician who does not believe in God can believe his purpose is to save lives. But belief in God and in a religion not only provide purpose, they also provide the belief that life has ultimate meaning.
A secular outlook undermines any belief that life itself has meaning. An undesigned, random, coincidence of molecules -- which is what we and the universe are -- has no meaning. And it is much harder to be happy when one concludes that life has no ultimate meaning.
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