The Rapidian Home

Ethics and Religion Talk: What is the Secret of Happiness

“Sandy” asks, What is the secret of happiness?

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

/The Rapidian

The Rev. Sandra Nikkel, head pastor of Conklin Reformed Church, responds:

"Everyone is in search of happiness and many people are looking for it in success, money, power, addiction, sex or indulgence. But none of these can truly satisfy us in the way that we need. The only one that can give us the happiness we crave is God and the only way to find it is under His wings. What does it mean to be under God’s wings? Full surrender to Him. This is exactly what the apostle Paul did. He abandoned all that he had in exchange for Christ. “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8 NIV). When Paul said this, he had exchanged his prominent position as a pharisee to take the low position of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. The worldly success he had as a pharisee was worthless to him in comparison to the true happiness he had found under God’s wings. He testifies to the truth that complete happiness can only be found in God—not in success, money, power, or any other thing this world has to offer. The secret is that we can only receive it if we fully surrender to Him."

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

"I think this answer will be different for everyone. For me it is found in having peace of mind and heart. Each night following my nightly prayers I review my day. Did I lead my actions from a place of integrity? Did I speak the truth and behave authentically? Was I kind? And finally did I tell the people I most care about that I love them? This daily practice brings me peace of mind and heart which leads to a sense of happiness. I also think happiness is found in the little things in life and in our relationships with other people.

"Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Adjutant Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

"Men and women have been asking this question for millennia! This question is ethereal or related to regions beyond the earth. From the Roman Catholic tradition is taught, especially from Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, that God is the only source of true happiness.

"The recognition that we are a finite part of an infinite spiritual world humbles an individual. In this spirit of humility, the human person may recognize the divine presence. However, because the divine is infinite, and the human is finite the latter may only receive glimpses of eternal beauty.

"Because the human being is ordered toward God, happiness may only be obtained by living a life of hope for the life that is to come. In living a life focused on what is to come, the human being is no longer distracted by the material goods of this world. The human being instead focuses on the spiritual goods that provide for eternal life.

"The practice of living a life of humility ordered to God is enhanced by The Beatitudes. These are found in the Gospel of Matthew 5:3-​11 and are a witness to us for living a life filled with hope, ordered to God, and fulfilled in the happiness of living daily lives of faith."

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

The secret of human happiness lies in knowing the origins of human misery. Misery entered the world by sin: “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all” (New England Primer). “All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under His wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever” (Shorter Catechism, Q. 19). Separated from God and His love by sin, we are alienated from Him in our hearts and minds, so that we hate God, hate our neighbors, and hate ourselves. Life on such terms is a bitter affair: “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun: and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit” (Ecclesiastes 1:14).

Presbyterianism therefore teaches that the secret of happiness is to be “justified” or reconciled to God by faith in the atoning death and saving life of His Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1-11). “All those who are justified, God vouchsafeth, in and for His only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption, whereby they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God; have His Name put upon them, receive the Spirit of adoption, have access to the throne of grace with boldness, are enabled to cry, Abba, Father; are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by Him as by a father, yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption; and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation” (Westminster Confession, Ch. XII).


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.