The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World

The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World

by David Murray


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The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World by David Murray

A unique combination of biblical teaching, scientific research, and personal biography shows those who follow Jesus how to live joyful, purposeful lives.

Hopelessness has invaded much of our culture, even reaching deep into the church. But while the world is awash in negativity, Christians have resources to live differently.

In The Happy Christian, professor and pastor David Murray blends the best of modern science and psychology with the timeless truths of Scripture to create a solid, credible guide to positivity. The author of the acclaimed Christians Get Depressed Too, Murray exposes modern negativity’s insidious roots and presents ten perspective-changing ways to remain optimistic in a world that keeps trying to drag us down.

The Happy Christian invites readers to shed negativity and become countercultural missionaries by demonstrating the positive power of the gospel in their lives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780718022013
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 02/24/2015
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Dr. David Murray is professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and pastor of the Free Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. He previously pastored two churches in Scotland for twelve years. Murray is the author of Jesus on Every Page, Christians Get Depressed Too, and How Sermons Work. David, his wife, Shona, and their five children live in the Lake Michigan area.

Read an Excerpt

The Happy Christian

Ten Ways To Be A Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World


Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2015 David Philip Murray
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7180-2202-0




FEELINGS HAVE BIG MUSCLES. They are often the most powerful force in our lives. They can bully our minds, our consciences, and our wills. They can even knock out the facts and bring truth to its knees.

This is perhaps okay when the feelings are good, when we experience joy, peace, and happiness. But more often anxiety, fear, sadness, and guilt rear their ugly heads and start shoving us around. That vicious tag team can quickly bruise and bloody us, confusing our minds and blurring our vision. Nothing looks good when we've gone a few rounds with them. We just want to slink out of the ring of life and crawl back into bed again.

How then can we get our emotions under control? How can we knock down guilt and wrestle fear to the ground? How can we summon allies like joy and peace to our side, especially when we often feel so alone in the fight of our lives? How can we be happy when there is so much to be sad about?

Many, many factors make up our moods—the weather, our bank balance, sports results, our genes, our health, our body chemistry, and our sleep—but no factor is more influential than our thoughts, especially our thinking patterns and habits.


That probably surprises you, doesn't it? Because most people think that the way to happiness is more money, more friends, more success, more health, more fame, more beauty, more muscles, and on and on.

Scientists who study happiness (often called positive psychologists) have discovered that improvements in life circumstances or situations account for only about 10 percent of our happiness. In other words, for all the effort people are putting into becoming more wealthy, healthy, popular, or muscular, the emotional return on the investment is minuscule. These positive events create some happiness, but it's usually minimal and brief.

These scientists also discovered that each of us has a baseline happiness that is difficult to change. Just as we all have a baseline weight that we tend to gravitate toward regardless of our efforts at dieting or muscle building, our parents have bequeathed us a happiness set point in our genes that we tend to return to no matter how many setbacks or triumphs we experience. Research has indicated that our genes explain about 50 percent of our happiness or lack of it.

Now if you can count, you're beginning to get worried. If happiness is 10 percent life circumstances plus 50 percent genes, that leaves only 40 percent to work with. The good news is, that is still a relatively large number. No, it's not 90 percent, but neither is it 5 percent. There's still quite a lot of potential, a lot that's in our power to change, in this 40 percent. And what makes up that 40 percent? These same scientists tell us it's our daily choices about what we think about and do.

And that's good news. Because of all these mood-altering factors, our thoughts are probably the easiest to change. There's nothing we can do about the weather, apart from moving to California. Our bank balance never seems to change, no matter how much is poured into it. Relying on sports results to lift our spirits is like relying on a bungee cord. Our genetic inheritance is fixed until the resurrection. We can do quite a bit to improve our health until we get to about fifty, when it all starts to fall apart. Meds can sometimes balance our body chemistry and moods but often imbalance other areas. We could certainly increase and improve our sleep if spouses would stop snoring (not mine, of course), the baby would stop crying, and the teenagers would stop crashing around the house at midnight.

But our thoughts—what we think and how we think—are potentially powerful allies in the fight for optimistic faith in a pessimistic culture. Our thoughts can be changed, even if our circumstances can't. Gretchen Rubin articulated this in her best-selling book The Happiness Project: "I didn't want to reject my life. I wanted to change my life without changing my life, by finding more happiness in my own kitchen. I knew I wouldn't discover happiness in a faraway place or in unusual circumstances." She didn't want to spend a fortune, travel the world, or wait for years: "I needed to find a way to do it here and now. I needed to change the lens through which I viewed everything familiar."

In this chapter, we'll change the lens. We'll discover how unhealthy some of our thinking patterns are and how they determine and often damage our moods. We'll find out how we have fallen into some flawed thinking habits and default thinking patterns, many of which began early in life and have continued to develop and strengthen since then. We will also begin to see the connections between these thoughts and our moods, our feelings.

But this is not all about diagnosis; I also want to provide a prescription, a cure, a method of changing and retraining our thoughts, lifting them out of their old ruts, and raising them to a higher and healthier plane. And in the process, we will knock guilt down, bloody anxiety's nose, put fear under our feet, and chase sadness out of the ring. Allies such as peace, joy, assurance, and confidence will then come running to our side, protecting and shielding us from future malicious assaults.


This probably sounds a bit odd to you. We are very used to the idea of making diagnoses, fixing problems, or putting right what's wrong; we're not so familiar with the idea of prescribing positive action, growing graces, or expanding happiness. But until we major much more on getting above the baseline, on rising above the average, we will always remain vulnerable and uncomfortably close to falling into the abyss again. Basic faith will get us out of the negatives and back to the baseline average. But if we want to flourish and thrive, we have to aim higher; we have to build a positive faith.

Simple Formula

As I wrote in the introduction: "As a person thinks in his heart, so is he." We are what we think. What we think is the major factor in determining how we feel. Two people can look at the same situation and walk away with two very different moods because they think differently about it.

A father looks at his son's artistic abilities and moans that he lacks the discipline to be a doctor. His mother, on the other hand, is excited when she thinks about how her son will beautify the world and bring pleasure to many through his paintings and poems.

Same facts; different feelings. Because the people have different thoughts about the facts.

Our hopes of living positive lives depend largely on getting our thoughts about the facts right. Most unhappy people are unhappy not because of their situation but because they let their feelings rule their thoughts, or they think about things in the wrong way.

The first step in making this right is identifying some of the ways our thoughts and feelings have gone wrong. Let me share some examples from my life. You'll probably recognize yourself in some of these.


Black-or-White Thinking

I have the tendency to think in extreme, black-or-white categories. Shades of gray do not exist; it's all or nothing. For example, maybe my sermon goes so badly one Sunday that I conclude, "I was never called to the ministry." Or the fleeting thought passes through my mind: God does not exist. I can't be a Christian if I ever think that, can I? Whether preaching or praying, the extreme conclusion begins to drag down my mood.


Sometimes, when I experience something horrible, I'm convinced that the same thing will happen to me again and again. I remember the first time I asked a young lady for a date, only to be rebuffed. My conclusion? "Well, there's no point in ever asking anyone else, is there? This is always going to happen to me, and I better just get used to the single life." Another time I tried to witness to someone, but when the person mocked me, I moped around for days groaning, "I'll never win a soul for Christ, so I might as well shut up."


I also have an amazing ability to pick out the negative in every situation and think about it to the exclusion of everything else. I filter out anything positive and find everything is negative. We're especially good at this when our kids come home with 90 percent on an exam. First question? "What happened to the other 10 percent?" Or we hear a great sermon, but all we can think about is the pastor's stupid grammatical mistake that spoiled the whole thing. Such tunnel vision is not good for the mood or the soul.


Ever managed to transform a positive experience into a negative? Yes, I'm pretty good at that too. Someone compliments me. But instead of expressing humble thanks to her and to God, What's she after? is my suspicious thought. I read my Bible and find a verse that speaks assurance to my heart. But instead of thanking God, I think, It's probably the Devil trying to deceive me.

Mind Reading

Although I do not believe in psychics, I can read your mind. Yes, I know all your innermost thoughts about me. When you passed me in the mall without stopping to speak, I immediately knew it was because you hated me. I heard later that you broke your glasses and were on the way to the optician, but I know better.


I not only read minds; I also tell fortunes. At times I feel in my bones that things are going to turn out really badly, and sure enough it always happens. Another person I know with that skill convinced himself that his job interview would be a catastrophe. When the CEO saw him and said, "Cheer up, we're not the firing squad!" he knew his prophecy was about to be fulfilled. Funny how what we feel often determines what actually happens.


I've found this amazing telescope that helps me find and focus on the sins of the distant past in a way that leads to present feelings of guilt, condemnation, and fear. Then when it comes to my present blessings and benefits, I turn the telescope the other way around, shrinking the good things until they are nearly invisible. No one can trump me when it comes to magnifying guilt and minimizing grace.


"I should ... I ought ... I should ... I ought." On and on it goes. An ever-lengthening list of obligations, duties, and targets. So much self-imposed pressure toward goals of unattainable standards, with all the frustration and resentment that accompanies the failure to reach them. Striving for the perfect day, the perfect home, the perfect yard, the perfect sermon, and the perfectly completed to-do list. Never realized. Never satisfied. Never content.


Thankfully, this is not one of my many skills, but younger people often fall into the trap of incorrectly viewing themselves as the cause of a bad event. I know one teenage girl who lost so many close relatives to death in a short space of time that she blamed herself for it all and lapsed into severe depression.

You don't need to be Sigmund Freud to realize that all these poor thought patterns will inevitably produce unhelpful emotions and behavior. If we always think about problems and negatives, imagine the future is hopeless, believe everyone hates us, or assume we have achieved nothing because we didn't achieve everything, or if we blame ourselves for things we had nothing to do with, we are on a dangerous downward spiral.

Such thought habits increase sadness, negativity, pessimism, and helplessness; they also undermine concentration, friendships, problem-solving ability, and motivation.

Good News! You Have a Plastic Brain!

The good news for those of us who tend to fall into one or more or all of these harmful thought habits is that we can retrain our brains to think more positively and feel more cheerful.

Until the 1970s, most scientists believed that brain structure and emotional makeup were primarily hereditary/genetic and more or less set in stone, especially after the teenage years. More recent research has demonstrated that we can actually change our brain structures and connections, improving our overall mood in the process.

So how do we change our brains? Is there a pill, an operation, or a one-off intervention? No, we retrain our brains by multiple little daily decisions. That's good news and bad news.

It's good news because it means we don't need to do anything dramatic, expensive, or invasive. We can do it here and now.

The bad news is that it involves effort, disciplined and determined effort, to increase the number of positive experiences in our everyday lives. These multiple little daily positives give us a quick squirt of happy emotions and improved performance, and as they become a habit, they raise our baseline happiness. Scientists call this neuroplasticity—yes, the brain is plastic, and that's actually a good thing—to convey how adaptable, flexible, and elastic our brains are.

X-Games and Mind Games

Let me take you into the forest to explain. My kids love to cycle through the paths in the woods that back up to our yard. But every year, new spring growth covers the pathways. For a few weeks, the kids slow down as they ride through, pushing away the leaves and branches that hang in the wrong place. They run over the fresh undergrowth rather gingerly, not wanting to wipe out. But as the days and weeks pass, the branches and undergrowth submit to the repeated assaults and clear the way for our would-be X-Gamers so they can fly through the forest with the greatest of ease.

Something similar happens in our brains. We create electrical and chemical pathways with our thoughts. As we think our way down these pathways, we strengthen the brain connections. As somebody put it, "Cells that fire together, wire together." The more we travel these mental paths, the faster and easier these paths become so that eventually our thoughts and resultant actions feel automatic.

Just think about how you learned to type at your computer. With practice it became easier as the pathways were more frequently used and the connections grew stronger and faster. So much so that you can now type almost without thinking. Your thoughts and actions have reshaped your brain pathways. Through repetition, a good habit has become ingrained and cemented in your brain structures and processes.

Renewing Our Minds

This plastic brain possibility opens up tremendous opportunities for personal change, growth, and development. Pessimists can become optimists. "No-men" (and women) can become "yes-men" (and women). Frightening obstacles can become inviting challenges. Difficulties can become possibilities. No, we cannot change reality, but we can change the way we view reality, regardless of age or stage in life.

These scientific discoveries are both confirmed and explained in Scripture. Through the apostle Paul, God calls us to "be transformed by the renewing of [our] mind[s]." Thus, science and Scripture agree; we can retrain our brains, we can renew our minds, and thereby we can be transformed. Science and Scripture disagree, to some extent, about what needs to be transformed and how this takes place, and we'll consider these differences throughout this book.

For now, though, let's work through a few examples of brain retraining, mind renewing, and plastic remolding. I want to introduce you to a simple six-step method that will help you address bad thinking habits and change them for the better.


Let's start with the bane of my life—my to-do list. I'm sitting at my desk at the end of a busy day, and I'm staring at my list in disbelief.

Step 1: What are the facts? I started out the day with thirty items on the list, worked hard and completed fifteen tasks, but I added twenty more to the list.

Step 2: What are my thoughts about the facts? I'm thinking, Oh no, I've got more to do now than when I started out this morning. I've gone backward rather than forward. If it keeps going like this, I'm going to be completely stressed out, and I'll never manage a day off with my family this week.

Step 3: What are my feelings? Guilt, stress, anxiety, tension, fear, sadness, or whatever.

Step 4: Can I change the facts? No, even if I set fire to the list, the tasks remain to be done.

Step 5: Can I change my thoughts about the facts? Not without help, but my wife is an expert at this. She sees my furrowed brow and stiff shoulders, comes alongside me with coffee and a cookie, and asks, "What's wrong, darling?" I show her my to-do list, and she begins to laugh. "What are you laughing at?"

"You don't think you accomplished anything today, do you?"

"No, look, I started out with a list this long, and despite all I've done today, it has grown even longer."


Excerpted from The Happy Christian by DAVID MURRAY. Copyright © 2015 David Philip Murray. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Happiest People in the World xi

1 Happy Facts: Facts > Feelings = Positive+ 1

2 Happy Media: Good News > Bad News = Positive+ 25

3 Happy Salvation: Done > Do = Positive+ 47

4 Happy Church: Christ > Christians = Positive+ 65

5 Happy Future: Future > Past = Positive+ 81

6 Happy World: Everywhere Grace > Everywhere Sin = Positive+ 105

7 Happy Praise: Praise > Criticism = Positive+ 121

8 Happy Giving: Giving > Getting = Positive+ 141

9 Happy Work: Work > Play = Positive+ 173

10 Happy Differences: Diversity > Uniformity = Positive+ 193

Conclusion: Grand Totals Positive Faith = The Happy Christian 219

Acknowledgments 235

Notes 237

Scripture Index 251

Subject Index 252

About the Author 262

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

There’s a sort of gloom and doom in the air. You don’t have to go far to get a whiff of it, as matter of fact, you probably know it well. David Murray understands that there is a problem when our hearts and minds are set on the negative things of this world and he has a wonderful solution: the Bible. “The Bible has an uplifting and positive message,” he says. And he is right. “Jesus leads us through the dark valleys and beside green pastures.” If we set our minds on all we have in Christ, how could one not be filled with the joy of the Lord? With a fascinating mixture of science and biblical truth, Murray sets out to help us see how we practically seek the joy found in Christ. The Happy Christian reminds me that the joy of the Lord truly is my strength. -- Trillia Newbell

Christians and non-Christians alike are besieged by bad news and a world of difficulty. Christians, though, should respond in a way that reflects the hope they have found in Christ. In Happy Christian,
David Murray instructs us on how to face the challenges of this cynical age with a rooted joy and a resounding happiness. Happy
Christian will instruct, inspire and encourage believers to live our their faith with true joy. -- Ed Stetzer

David Murray’s Happy Christian is a timely reminder to all believers that the sorrows of this world are no match for the supreme joy of knowing Christ, Christians everywhere will be encouraged by this work for years to come. -- Ed Stetzer

'If anyone else had written a book with this title I wouldn't have picked it up. The fact that it was written by Dr. David Murray made me not only pick it up but study it in depth. This is not a 'feel good' book but a book about the genuine joy and happiness that we can know as beloved followers of Christ in a broken world.' -- Sheila Walsh

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The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Trial, suffering,backsliding,defeat, and temptation are biblical words, but so are victory, growth, maturity, progress, usefulness, fruit, service, opportunity, advance, and encouragement." - Pg.39 of The Happy Christian by David Murray The Reader// The Happy Christian is a wonderful book that manages the perfect balance of scientific and biblical facts as well as the author's personal experience. I truly enjoyed this book and look forward to rereading it in years to come; however, The Happy Christian drug on for me. It started to become redundant and, consequently, made the reading process very lengthily. Nevertheless, David Murray knows his stuff! I am still in awe at the facts he has laid on the table in The Happy Christian. One of my favorite sentences is on page nine, "No, we cannot change reality, but we can change the way we view reality, regardless of age or stage of life." Overall, from the reader's perspective, I highly recommend The Happy Christian for anybody (even the most positive people), it will change your mindset! The Author// I am no author. I have little to no experience, but I have passed middle school English/writing classes so I know the basics. David Murray is, by far, one of the best writers I have ever read the works of. Murray can throw in several semi-colons into one sentence and can create breath-taking, chill creating, transitions all day long! I have pages filled with boxes and little notes in the margins about his grand word choice and smooth transitions, not to mention his text features! Murray must have researched nonstop for a few days because The Happy Christian is filled with references from other books and psychologists. I will definitely be on the lookout for other works by David Murray.
GardeningGal More than 1 year ago
The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to be a joyful believer in a gloomy world, by David Murray, has been both a joy and a challenge to read.  The reason I say it has been a challenge is because this is a topic that I struggle with; it’s close to home. I am a Christian who desires to be a light in the world, but it can be hard to keep that light burning while bombarded by brokenness in the Media, Our Past, Work, and even the Church.  The Happy Christian shares practical ways to help us to lean more on the optimistic, positive side of the spectrum.  This is not a book about the power of thinking positive or looking at a glass half full.  This book acknowledges that we are bombarded by bad news and real heart ships; but that is not where it ends. Instead, as Christians, we can learn to tap into the hope we find in Christ. There is no room for hopelessness in the heart of a person who has experienced the Grace of God. If you, as the reader, desire to lighten the dark places in your heart, please be patient with yourself and use this book as a resource to strive to expose that light. I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
Danny_G More than 1 year ago
*I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review. Joy. Its a word I heard a lot growing up in church. "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Where!? Down in my heart. Where!? Down in my heart." Those are the lyrics to a song I would sing a child in Sunday School. As I get older I find that I have less joy and, where is it? Not down in my heart it woudl seem. Thus, when I saw this book I was curious. First, I have heard of Dr. Murray and have a few books of his. Second, I had to ask myself: do I consider myself to be a happy Christian? Some days I can say yes, others would be a no. Why is that? It is because I do not have the complete mind of Christ. Dr. Murray lays out ten ways to take on the mind of Christ to have joy in life. I will not go into all ten but highlight the one that stood out to me the most: giving. Most think money when giving is mentioned in church and that does play a part. However, Dr. Murray mentioned an area of giving that I had not considered as giving: leadership. There are qualified people who attend church who do not give of their leadership talents. Whether that is teaching, mentoring, prayer group, hospitality, singing, or leading in a non-church building related function (I would submit that this is sorely lacking), Dr. Murray pointed out that is a a way of giving. Giving can lead to joy. It focuses on another and helping others may make one feel good. Leadership is giving to others with the intent of making them better. Who would not want a leader like that? It is a double-joy; joy for the receiver and joy for the giver. That nugget of wisdom alone causes me to recommend this book. Christians need joy in this gloomy environment. This book can help them get there.
fashionatalie More than 1 year ago
I admit I struggled through this one. It's not that the subject isn't interesting. It's not that the writing is particularly boring. I just couldn't jive with it. It's a mix of scientific exploration and personal anecdotes that engage the question of how believers can find joy in a world that is...well, falling apart. Turning on the news these days is enough to turn anyone's stomach, or maybe not, since we're so used to it. There are tons of facts and actionable ideas packed into this little paperback, almost to an overwhelming point. The happy cover belies its heavy subject, and Murray doesn't miss much in his examination of the subject. If you're in the mood for a studious read, pick this one up. If you're looking for a happy read to throw in your suitcase for vacation, maybe choose another book. I do SO appreciate a book that is able to weave faith and science together on such a tricky subject. I love the 10 areas of life he touches on, and find them to be very accurate. I admire Murray for this book, and do hope that perhaps re-reading it will give me even more to mull.