Happy? What It Is and How To Find It
Rev. Matt Miofsky grew up in Washington, Mo. He majored in pure mathematics at Washington University in St. Louis and earned his Master of Divinity at Candler School of Theology at Emory University.
Why did you write this book?
My passion in ministry is connecting with people who have never attended church, written the church off, stopped going, been burned or just plain bored by the church. That is why I started The Gathering, the church I lead in St. Louis. Unlike a lot of authors, I didn’t have a book inside me that demanded to be written. I always thought that if I wrote a book, I would want it to be something that a normal person might actually pick up and read, a book that any church person could give to their neighbor or friend that doesn’t go to church. Last year I preached a series on happiness that was really well-received. An editor from Abingdon (Susan Salley) just happened to be listening to the sermons online. At the end of the series she reached out to me and said, “Let’s turn that into a book.” And we did. While the book encompasses a lot more than the series, that was really the genesis of the project.
Who is the audience?
I wanted to write a book that anyone could pick-up and read. In that sense, a person who never goes to church could still pick up this book and read it. Any person in the church could hand it to a friend or coworker. Having said that, the book is great for people who have been in church a long time and even those who want to go deeper in their faith. It can be read alone or in small groups or Sunday school classes. In the book, I take a simple idea that we talk about all the time and look at it from a Biblical point of view. When we do that, we find that there is actually a lot of serious and rather nuanced questions that we can explore around happiness.
Tell me what you hope readers gain by reading your book.
I hope people question the world’s definition of and approach to happiness and consider the alternative path to happiness that God offers. We all want to be happy. Parents wish it for their kids, spouses wish it for their partners, we wish it for our friends, and all of us want it for ourselves. But happiness is elusive. There are so many competing and contradictory voices in our world about what happiness really is and how we attain it. I am afraid that a lot of us don’t have a good way to sift through these voices, and figure out which ones to listen to. That is where this book helps, not by giving every answer but giving us some clues as which paths to take and which ones to pass on. God offers us a lot of wisdom in scripture about what does and doesn’t make us happy. Surprisingly a lot of that wisdom is backed up by special sciences and personal testimonies of Christians and non-Christians alike. Taking time in our lives to question what we are chasing after can often save us a lot of headaches, hurt and wasted years.
Tell us about your writing process.
The sermon manuscripts were a starting point for me. From there, I worked with my editor to enhance the content of the sermons and turn them into book chapters. Since I have thought and studied this idea a lot, I found out that I had a lot more to say that I was never able to fit into sermons. So while the sermons were helpful as a starting point, the chapters are much more robust than the sermons behind them. I really worked on the book in the fall, trying to do it early in the morning or on my days off. I also took advantage of those weeks I wasn’t preaching and used that time to write. What I was surprised about is the editing process. I found that like a sermon, it was hard to stop fiddling and let a chapter be done. In my mind, I am always seeing how I can make it better, change around the structure or supplement it with more information. The editor’s schedule was like Sundays are in preaching - they helped set some hard deadlines!
How is writing for publication different than writing a sermon?
I realized that as I was writing my style has been influenced by preaching. For example in preaching, complicated sentence structures don’t “preach” so well. I tend to not use overly cumbersome words in sermons and often times preach in sentence fragments. I also have a very conversational style of preaching, and that is how I write my sermons. To be fair, my editor didn’t want me to change that too much for the book. They wanted it to have the feel of a conversation, not an essay. They didn’t want an academic treatise on happiness. Instead I wrote the book to feel much like a helpful conversation that you might have with a pastor. It gives plenty for people to chew on while at the same time making space for uncertainty, questions and vulnerability. Ultimately though, I wanted my book to do the same thing as one of my sermons, I wanted it to connect with people and help them see their life differently because of God.
What recently published book has been most influential to you, and why?
One that I return to again and again in my ministry in David Kinnaman’s Unchristian. There are a lot of spinoff books that have continued the conversation that he started and expanding on those ideas. While it is a few years old now, his book really meshes well with our approach to ministry at The Gathering. Right now I am reading a book called Growing Young. I have a pretty eclectic reading list that is comprised of things that are not specifically about ministry, but that I find immensely useful for my own leadership. In that arena, I loved a book about hospitality and the restaurant business called Setting the Table. I also recently finished House of Morgan, a book about the history of finance in the U.S. through the eyes of the Morgan family.
Have you received any noteworthy feedback from readers?
The most consistent feedback I get is something along the lines of “did you read this article or come across this book as you were writing...” There is SO much out there about happiness and everybody has their own understanding of what happiness is and means. There is constantly new books, podcasts, articles and studies being released on happiness, so there is always new points to be made or perspectives to consider. This book does not intend to be comprehensive, and I didn’t want to merely repeat or compile what others have already said. Instead, I wanted to take a good look at how our pursuit of happiness is shaped, and often challenged, by scripture. The most encouraging notes I get are not just the ones that praise the book, but are the ones from people who share with me how the book has concretely impacted the way they live.
Happy? What it is and Where to find it is available at www.cokesbury.com as well other online retailers and some local bookstores like Novel Neighbor in St. Louis and will be one of the books available at Annual Conference session.