This reading group guide for The Law of Happiness includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Jenny Dr. Henry Cloud. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.INTRODUCTION
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Drawing from the latest scientific and psychological research on the quest for happiness, The Law of Happiness
discusses how the spiritual truths of the Bible hold the secrets to the happiness we desire. As Dr. Henry Cloud unpacks these universal, eternal principles, he reveals that true happiness is not about circumstances, physical health, financial success, or even about the people in our lives. In other words, it’s not about the factors that are frequently beyond our control. Rather, happiness is found in choosing to become the kind of people God created us to be.
As he unpacks the connection between science, faith, and real life, Dr. Cloud reveals that happiness is not what happens to you; it is who you are.
Dr. Cloud shows just how happiness is achieved as he sets readers on a pathway of spiritual transformation that connects them with the God of the universe. With these new tools, readers will discover that their relationships, their careers, and their inner selves are infused with the joy they’ve been seeking.TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
- Compare the Law of Happiness with the Law of Attraction. Which is more meaningful to you? Which has more potential to be effective in your own life?
- Think about a time you thought something would provide the ultimate happiness, such as a new job title or a new car. How do you regard that thing today? Does it continue to impact your happiness scale?
- Is there a “what” or a “when” that is holding you back from seeking true happiness? How can you overcome those obstacles? How can you be happy “in the now”?
- Have you experienced wholeheartedness or “flow”? During what activity? What other activities do you think would be conducive to a “flow” state? What inhibits it? How can you be more engaged in your life?
- What are your goals for this week? Month? Year? Are they “stretch” goals? Are they SMART goals?
- Review the tips for happy thinking on pages 114–119. Which do you already incorporate in your life? Which might you need to work on? What do all these tips have in common?
- Do one of the gratitude exercises on page 125 or page 128, such as making a list of things you are grateful for, starting a gratitude journal, or creating a book with pictures and lists of things you’re grateful for. Share with your book club.
- Talk about or make a list of your boundaries, as the Psalmist David did (reference pages 140–141 for inspiration). Which boundaries do you need to keep in place permanently, and which can help you accomplish temporary goals? Where in your past might you have benefitted from having such boundaries in place? How can keeping these boundaries in place increase your happiness?
- Is there anyone, including yourself, that you have been holding back on forgiving? Why? Talk about the difference between forgiveness, reconciliation, and trust.
- Discuss the difference between belief and trust in regards to your faith. How is it possible to believe but not trust? Have you experienced this in your own life?
- Dr. Cloud incorporates both Biblical and scientific support for his Laws of Happiness. How does each section of his research inform the other? Which did you find most compelling?
A CONVERSATION WITH DR. HENRY CLOUDWhat made you so interested in happiness research? Have you always considered yourself a happy person?
- Review the activities proven to increase happiness in Chapter 4, such as serving others, practicing gratitude, and stretching yourself. Make a plan to do at least one of these suggestions, alone or with your book group.
- Try the exercise in Chapter 5—take a moment to consciously savor two pleasurable, everyday experiences throughout your day. Write about how you experienced them, and share with your book group. How did taking a moment to appreciate the “now” improve your day?
- Has your group read The Secret Things of God? If not, go back and read the first book in Dr. Cloud’s series. How does it compare with The Law of Happiness? What other topics would you like to see him explore in this series?
In the beginning, I was looking into the research because of my work as an executive and performance coach. And the further I got into the research, the more I got interested not just from that perspective, but also from the spiritual implications that the research had. For the most part, I have always considered myself a pretty happy person who understands existential despair. How do you personally define happiness?
I think of it in terms of the Hebrew word Shalom
. . . which means overall well-being. I also think of it as a byproduct of the word integrity
. . . which means to be integrated or whole. Integrity makes us have good relationships and be fruitful in our work, which all affects our sense of well-being. How do you balance working towards goals that you know will make you happy with living in the moment and enjoying the everyday?
Actually, the research has a lot to say about that, and while goal orientation itself is a key component of happiness, the paradox is that it’s not the reaching of the goal but the daily engagement of being in the process of working on it. It is the journey, not the destination. But goal orientation is a very important aspect of happiness. Why do you think The Secret is so popular? Why is there such an interest in obtaining happiness in the world today? Do you see something flawed in our society?
I think it’s so popular because its claim is to promise an answer to some of the questions or issues that we all care about most deeply: what’s behind the universe and how do we get what we want and need in our lives? I don’t think the interest for happiness is new for today. I think if you look at the literature throughout the ages the question of happiness has been there from the beginning. I don’t think our society has cornered the market on flaws. When you study history you can see that the real problem always has to do with the flaws in human nature, and that always gets worse when any society or culture encourages our lower nature more than it does transcendent spiritual values.
In terms of happiness, how do Americans rate versus other countries?
There are a lot of studies out there, but a pretty good rating would say that we are not in the top ten or even the top twenty. One big study recently ranked us at number twenty. Not so great, given our vast wealth, resources, freedoms, etc. Any ideas why?
Well, as the book says, there are reasons why people are happy, and it seems that by and large, we are not pursuing those life activities as well as a bunch of other countries. Our emphasis on the material versus the immaterial is certainly one big reason.Are Americans attempting to medicate away their problems, instead of doing things like focusing on the Laws of Happiness?
If you mean real medicine for depression, for example, then I would say “no” and “yes.” Sometimes there are very real biochemical reasons why people need medication, and they could do all of the happiness activities and still have a biochemical problem that needs treatment. So, I am all for people taking medicine when appropriate.
But there are a lot of people who do not really have biological problems and would do very well to begin to lead the kinds of lives that produce happiness and well-being. Thirdly, there are the non-biological clinical syndromes that need treatment as well, but even those would be affected well by doing the activities prescribed in The Law of Happiness.Can you talk a little more about the research that states happiness is ten percent circumstantial, fifty percent genetic, and forty percent under your control? This book focuses mainly on the last forty percent—what encouragement can you give to those whose genetic predisposition towards happiness is less than others?
In some senses, the answer is always to focus on what you can control versus what you can’t. And the genetic part is really not that negative for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is very difficult to ascertain what that really means in terms of its effect and also how much we can really alter a predisposition by lifestyle and practices. I personally have seen people who were really not very “wired” towards happiness get really better as a result of personal and spiritual growth. Plus, if you do have some sort of genetic clinical issue, like depression or bi-polar disorder, that can affect mood, that is very, very treatable. So, in some senses it is a bit of a red herring in that it gets the discussion going in the wrong direction. The direction we have to focus on is very, very clear: do the things that affect happiness!! They are under your control, and even if you were not one of those smiling babies at one day old in the hospital nursery, you can be a smiling adult!You’ve worked with many high-powered executives and celebrities. Would you say those with fame and fortune are more or less happy than others less renowned or wealthy, and why?
The research is pretty clear about that. Money helps, but not in terms of wealth as much as basic security. If you have attained a level where you are not worrying about basic needs and the things that make life work, the money factor sort of goes away. Really wealthy people do get a tiny bump probably because of some of the ways that their lives can be ordered, but it is not a big deal. The much bigger deal is how they live their lives. If they focus on the things that make people happy, they will be happy, rich, and famous people, and if they don’t, you can read about them in the check-out line at the grocery store. There is no shortage of miserable rich and famous people.
Another big factor in this is how rich you are relative to people around you. You can be very wealthy and compare yourself to wealthier people, and then you feel poor and unhappy. By and large, any kinds of social comparisons are a bad idea and rob people of happiness. But in the world of the rich and famous, they tend to do that a lot, and to their own peril. Your father obviously was a great influence in your life. Who are your other role models?
I was fortunate to grow up in a community with great coaches, teachers, and family friends who all were big influences. And when I became an adult, I was blessed to have had several very important mentors along the way. I still meet with some of them regularly, and they speak into my life. We all need those kinds of influences. But I would have to say, as I wrote about in the book, my dad was the greatest.Who and what inspires you? What are you currently reading?
I am mostly inspired by good friends and people I know who get up every morning, work hard, and serve the people in their lives well. People who are good spouses and parents, as well as do a diligent job every day. The guy who tends to the parking garage at my office building is an example. He is there every day, smiling and serving the people he encounters. Day after day. Or the single parent who is doing the job of two people and making it all work. Those are the people that inspire me.
Currently, I am reading some neuroscience perspectives about how the brain develops in the practice of performance and leadership, and also a lot about the need for leaders to be coaches.What is next in your Secret Things of God series?
Not sure, but after this one, it will have to be some topic that will make us happy!