Posts Tagged ‘religion’

INTERVIEW: Dr. Christopher Kaczor

Q. Why did you write The Gospel of Happiness?

This book arose through personal experience.  After a serious set-back, I had a few years of feeling very unhappy and searching for something that could remedy the blues.  In looking into becoming happier myself, I discovered “positive psychology,” a branch of psychology focusing on optimism, well-being, and flourishing.  I had previously read both philosophical and theological treatments of happiness, but this psychology approach was new to me.  As I read I was amazed at the overlap between what positive psychologists found and the teachings of Christian spiritual guides, such as the founder of the Jesuits St. Ignatius Loyola.


Q. Early in the book you mention that your only personal experience in psychological counseling had not been positive and that you had always viewed psychology as an alternative to religion. Can you tell us a little bit about how your thoughts on the matter changed when you discovered “positive psychology”?

In my mind, I thought of psychology and spirituality as two alternative ways to pursue happiness.  What I discovered was that these two approaches are often complementary, and in deed can be mutually reinforcing.  Positive psychology provides empirical confirmation of the happiness producing effects of Christian practices, such as serving others, giving thanks, and forgiving others.  Moreover, psychology also indicates ways to enhance Christian spiritual practices. At the same time, Christian wisdom enhances and deepens recommendations found in positive psychology.  So, rather than think it is either psychology or spirituality, ideally it can be both psychology and spirituality.


Q. For the purpose of this book, how do you define happiness? How do you measure it?

In this work, I think about happiness in terms of positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement (PERMA, as Martin Seligman calls it).  Part of happiness is positive emotion, such as joy, optimism, and excitement. But happiness is more than just ‘feeling good.’ It also includes engagement with the flow of life when we are so caught up in our hobbies, work or activity that an hour or two feels like ten minutes.  At the heart of happiness is good relationships with people.  The findings of positive psychology reinforce the ancient teachings of Aristotle that no one can be happy without friends.  Likewise, happiness requires meaning which is making a positive difference beyond the self such as to family, church, community, neighborhood, or school. The final aspect of happiness is seeking achievement of various goals-personal, social, spiritual, and professional.


Q. In The Gospel of Happiness, you highlight the many ways in which positive psychology and Christian practice overlap. You offer helpful suggestions on how to become happier in everyday life and how to deepen Christian practice based on contemporary psychological insights.  Do you have a favorite activity that combines positive psychology and Christian practice? 

The very first practice I learned from positive psychology is called the “Three Blessings Exercise.” At the end of the day, simply think over how the day went looking for whatever went well—a tasty nectarine at lunch, a funny conversation with a neighbor, a task finally off the “to do” list, or a moment of relaxation with hot coffee.  Once you’ve come up with three things, you write down what happened and why it happened. Research indicated that “Three Blessings Exercise” reduces depression and helps increase happiness by making us more aware of the good things that are already in our lives to which we may have not paid much attention. Centuries ago in his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius Loyola recommended something like “Three Blessing Exercise” in what is called the Examin.  When we look for what is good we are more likely to find and celebrate what is good. When we thank God for the joys we find in life, our gratitude is enhanced.


Q. What do you hope folks will gain from reading The Gospel of Happiness?

First, I hope readers become happier!  We all want happiness, and The Gospel of Happiness provides empirical evidence for what does and does not deliver on the promise of human flourishing.  I also hope readers find an encouragement for faith.  I found much evidence in psychology for the wisdom of the teachings of Jesus encouraging forgiveness, service, prayer, gratitude, and hope. Thirdly, I hope that people find practical suggestions for doing what can be challenging, such as forgiving others and doing the right but more difficult thing in the face of temptation.  Finally, I hope that readers can see the beautiful harmony that can exist between faith and reason, between spirituality and psychology. We can learn much from the rich interaction between them.


Q. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

One of the most interesting parts of the book, I think, is the final chapter about weakness of will. Good people want to do the right thing, but sometimes they actually do what is bad.  St. Paul said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do.” Oscar Wilde echoed the sentiment, “I can resist anything but temptation.” Fortunately, contemporary psychologists offer ways to strengthen willpower.  These discoveries—many of which were discovered centuries earlier by saints—can help people live the message of Jesus more consistently.


PRESS RELEASE: Does Your Faith Make You Happier?

Philosopher Uncovers Link between Faith and Well-Being

“All people seek happiness.” – Blaise Pascal, Pensees, 425

 Dr. Christopher Kaczor had always thought that psychology was an alternative to religion; that the two were mutually exclusive. That was until he discovered “positive psychology.”

In his latest book, The Gospel of Happiness: Rediscover Your Faith Through Spiritual Practice and Positive Psychology (on-sale Sept. 8), Dr. Kaczor examines happiness from a theological and psychological perspective and shows readers how they can rediscover their faith through spiritual practice and positive psychology.

Psychologist David Myers notes “survey after survey across North America and Europe reveals that religious people more often than nonreligious people report being happy and satisfied with life.” Additionally, people who strongly believe in God are more than twice as likely to report being happy as those who do not believe in God.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that there are many ways in which positive psychology and Christian practice overlap.

While conducting research on the subject of happiness, Dr. Kaczor discovered that certain findings in positive psychology can help Christians to better live the message of Jesus. He realized that he did not need to choose between Christian faith and positive psychology any more than he had to choose between Christian faith and modern medicine.

In The Gospel of Happiness, Dr. Kaczor highlights the commonalities between positive psychology and Christian practice while offering practical suggestions on how to become happier in everyday life and how to deepen Christian practice based on contemporary psychological insights.

“Just as Aristotle’s natural theology bolstered Christian theology, today positive psychology provides an empirical justification and aid for Christian practice, a kind of natural moral theology,” writes Dr. Kaczor.

 “I hoped to write a book that would be helpful for Christians by providing a glimpse into an exciting new development called positive psychology which can significantly enrich their lives and provide surprising new justifications for practices recommended by Jesus himself,” writes Dr. Kaczor. “The Gospel of Happiness is good news indeed.”

DR. CHRISTOPHER KACZOR is William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University and is professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Dr. Kaczor’s research on issues of ethics, philosophy, and religion has been in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Huffington Post, and National Review, as well as on NPR, BBC, EWTN, ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, MSNBC, TEDx, and The Today Show.


“At last, a Christian perspective on Positive Psychology that ratifies scripture by presenting the latest evidence-based science.  Kaczor soars when he shows how Christian practices are the way to find fullness and freedom of life. Impressively integrative, reading this book was simultaneously edifying and enjoyable.”
~ Robert A. Emmons, Professor of Psychology UC Davis, Editor-in-Chief, The Journal of Positive Psychology, author of Gratitude Works! and Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier

“Professor Kaczor truly proclaims the Gospel of Happiness.  In conversation with scientists and sages, literature and liturgy, drawing upon a treasure trove of classical and contemporary sources, he offers profound and practical pathways toward happiness, virtue, and the flourishing life.  In engaging style suitable for personal growth, small group study, pastoral counseling, or college classroom, he shows how positive psychology validates Christian practice and how Christian practice completes positive psychology.  Grace truly does perfect nature, and Kaczor perfects positive psychology.”
~ Keith A. Houde, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology, Ave Maria University

“Professor Kaczor has distilled the findings of positive psychology on the subject of happiness, showing their congruence with Christian theology.  Amidst the torrent of self-help and popular psychology fads, this book stands apart as a gem with lasting value: it is practical, empirical, eminently readable, and deeply wise.”
~ Aaron Kheriaty, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of California Irvine School of Medicine, author of A Catholic Guide to Depression

“Just as Augustine enlisted Plato and Aquinas mined Aristotle, Christopher Kaczor marshals the insights of positive psychology to illuminate the Christian faith in fresh ways, showing us how contemporary science confirms ancient wisdom. If you want to be happy, it turns out one of the best things you can do is practice traditional Christian disciplines like cultivating gratitude, extending forgiveness, and giving yourself away in service to others. This is philosophy that doesn’t just invite you to think differently but live differently.  A marvelous book that has me looking at my own life anew.”
~ James K.A. Smith, professor of philosophy, Calvin College and author of Desiring the Kingdom

“If Christians wish to penetrate the darkness of the modern soul, they must not only dialogue with the social sciences, they must speak in a truly integrative idiom.  Dr. Kaczor’s new book reflecting on happiness through the joint lenses of positive psychology and Christian faith provides a simple and persuasive model for us all to follow.”
~ Christian Brugger, D.Phil., J. Francis Cardinal Stafford Professor of Moral Theology, Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary

“Christopher Kaczor’s new book provides a clear account of both the value of ‘positive psychology’ for Christians and an account of the value of Christian faith for human well-being.  The book is beautifully written and will provide a great resource for those who want to know more about the value of empirical research on human well-being for the religious life, as well as the value of Christian practices and virtues for human flourishing.”
~ C. Stephen Evans, University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Baylor University

“Many outside the faith (and too many within) believe Christianity to be a depressing religion obsessed with sin and suffering. Kaczor smashingly rights the wrong with this engaging, Christian reading of the scientific findings of positive psychology. Readers of this book will discover the wise happiness at the heart of Christianity.”
~ Eric L. Johnson, Ph.D. Lawrence and Charlotte Hoover Professor of Pastoral Care The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, editor of the Journal of Theology and Psychology

“God made us to be happy — to be blessed and to live with joy. And all of us are born with this desire for happiness in our hearts. But sometimes we can get a little lost along the way. We can find ourselves looking for happiness in the wrong places. Christopher Kaczor shows us the right path and he walks the path with us — shining new light on the ancient ways of forgiveness and gratitude, humility, prayer and service to our neighbor. Kaczor is a wise guide and this book can help all of us to grow in our relationships with others and our journey with God.”
~ The Most Rev. José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles

“In The Gospel of Happiness, Christopher Kaczor creates a refreshing new approach to a traditional theme lying at the heart of both Christianity and philosophy – the pursuit of happiness. Recognizing the dictum of Aristotle that happiness is the one objective we seek for itself, and that everything else is sought for the sake of happiness, he creates an understandable, practical, and usable path that combines contemporary psychology with traditional Christian teaching. He lays his foundation by appealing to seven Christian ways to happiness – “faith, hope, and love,” prayer, gratitude, forgiveness, virtue, and willpower, and enriches them with the five elements of positive psychology – positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement. By using Martin Seligman’s new positive approach to psychology, he bridges formerly perceived gaps between psychology and faith — opening the way for Christians to benefit from the insights and healing of this important discipline.”
~ Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D., author of Finding True Happiness


To request a review copy or to schedule an interview with Dr. Christopher Kaczor, please contact Katie Moore, publicist,, 719-268-1936.

BLOG TOUR: The Catholic Advantage, March 3-9, 2015

 Does your faith make you happier?

In The Catholic Advantage: Why Health, Happiness, and Heaven Await the Faithful, the president of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue, explains why people of faith are more likely to be healthier and happier than their non-religious counterparts.

Providing proof and explanation for why religion is integrally tied to well-being, Donohue shows how the Catholic Church has the formula for achieving health, happiness and ultimately heaven.

“The greatest joy that Catholicism offers is the prospect of achieving salvation,” writes Donohue. And the good news, according to Donohue, is that the teachings of the Church provide a veritable road map to heaven while also providing benefits such as good health and happiness.

For The Catholic Advantage blog tour we’ve asked 7 bloggers to review the book and to share examples of how faith is integral to achieving good health and happiness in their own lives.

Using examples, both personal and from the book, our bloggers will shine new light on the fascinating correlation between faith and well-being.

We’re grateful to our blogging friends for sharing their thoughts and hosting stops on the tour. We encourage you to visit their sites (links below) and read their reflections.


Blog Tour Schedule

March 3: The Catholic Book Blogger

March 4: Testosterhome

March 5: Abigail’s Alcove

March 6: Quiet, Dignity, and Grace

March 7: Single Catholic Girl

March 8: Seasons of Grace

March 9: The Cajun Catholic


To request a review copy or to schedule an interview with Bill Donohue, please contact Katie Moore, publicist,, 719-268-1936.

PRESS RELEASE: Putting First Things First

Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square

“We have to see that the priest as priest is a public person, that he is a political person,” wrote Richard John Neuhaus in 1967.

Perhaps no individual in modern American history better personifies that description than Neuhaus himself, who lived his life on the national stage from the early 1960s until his death in 2009.

Neuhaus firmly believed that religion had a role to play in politics and in broader public life. From his days on the march with Martin Luther King, Jr. to his role as personal counselor to popes and presidents, he was a culture warrior extraordinaire.

Although he made his mark as an activist and intellectual clergyman, writing and speaking about the state of political affairs in America, he was first and foremost a man of God.

“Even when, especially when, we are most intensely engaged in the battle, first things must be kept first in mind,” he wrote. “It is not easy but it is imperative. It profits us nothing if we win all the political battles while losing our own souls.”

In Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square (Image, Feb. 10, 2015) author Randy Boyagoda offers a comprehensive and thoughtful examination of the life of one of the most influential figures in American public life, from the Civil Rights era to the War on Terror.

“I have spent the past five years working on this biography of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, the most influential Catholic in America, from his national news making conversion in 1990 to his death in 2009,” writes Boyagoda. “What I have discovered and share in this book is the deeper, fuller story of the relationships, experiences, and events—personal and historic, small-town and world-spanning—that made Neuhaus not only a prominent priest but a prodigious writer and a hard-charging activist.”

Neuhaus (1936-2009) began his life in the public square as a leading clergyman of the American Left in the 1960s and 1970s and then went on to become the most prominent clergyman of the American Right from the 1980s until his death in 2009.

From a Lutheran pastor in Brooklyn to a Catholic priest in New York, his writing, activism, and connections to people of power in religion, politics, and culture secured a place for himself and his ideas at the center of recent American history.

Neuhaus is perhaps best known as the founder of First Things magazine, a fixture in the national media, and a personal counselor to Pope John Paul II and President George W. Bush.

“He would tell his friends that all his life, he wanted to do something beautiful for God,” writes Boyagoda. “Whether as a man of ideas, a man on the march, or a man in conversation with Presidents and Popes, Neuhaus was first, last, and always a man of God.”


Important moments:

Neuhaus made national news for the first time on October 25, 1965 when he talked back to Lyndon B. Johnson on matters of U.S. foreign policy in Vietnam during an antiwar demonstration.

Having already squared off privately and publicly against his arch-conservative Lutheran pastor father on civil rights, Neuhaus became a prominent civil rights activist in the 1960s, marching and working alongside his mentor, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and also Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1968, Neuhaus was thrown out of the Democratic National Convention for the trouble he was making on the convention floor as an antiwar delegate.

In 1970, Neuhaus made a run for Congress as a radical Left wing delegate and lost. This was an act he later called “a fit of vocational absentmindedness.”

In 1975, Neuhaus fully became a conservative during days spent developing what would become the Hartford Appeal for Theological Affirmation.

In 1984, Neuhaus became director of the Rockford Institute Center on Religion and Society, a conservative think tank. Harper’s magazine reported his new directorship in a piece titled “Going to Extremes: A Sixties Radical Converts to an Eighties Reaganite.”

With the overwhelming response to the 1984 publication of his book The Naked Public Square, which coincided with a presidential election campaign in which the relationship of religion and politics was a source of endless controversy, Neuhaus emerged as America’s most prominent and discussed authority on religion and public life. 

In 1989, Neuhaus and his colleagues were un-ceremoniously fired from their jobs, as part of an intellectual war on the American Right that made national news. By 1990, Neuhaus had founded the Institute on Religion and Public Life and become editor-in-chief of the institute’s flagship publication, First Things magazine, which is the leading intellectual journal of its kind in the United States.

In 1996, Neuhaus presided over a national news-making special issue of First Things that made controversial connections between Nazi Germany and the United States over Supreme Court decisions about abortion and euthanasia.

Having already made national news with his conversion to Catholicism in 1990, by 2005 Neuhaus was named one of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America” by Time Magazine.

Neuhaus served as an unofficial advisor to President George W. Bush on a range of religious and ethical matters and was one of Pope John Paul II’s most influential American supporters and personal allies.


“[A] stellar biography.” – Publishers Weekly

“Boyagoda dispassionately describes this fascinating and active life, and he manages to blend skills as a folksy storyteller, researcher and unbiased historian, providing a biography that is balanced, interesting and relevant. A useful, provocative spotlight on one of the leading lights of the 20th century.” – Kirkus

“Faith, it is correctly observed, while intensely personal, is never private. In North America, nobody recently has more effectively defended and encouraged bringing religion into the public square than Richard John Neuhaus. And up until now, no one has offered a more credible, careful, and colorful biography of this convert to Catholicism—in the line of Orestes Brownson, Isaac Hecker and Thomas Merton—than Randy Boyagoda.” – Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, author of True Freedom
“A Lutheran pastor who became a Catholic priest, labeled sometimes as liberal and other times as conservative, Neuhaus was truly a “sign of contradiction” in our times, a man whose constant affiliation in life was of belonging to God and striving to draw ever nearer to Him. Thorough, vivid, and keenly understanding of the interplay of personality, faith, and cultural context, Boyagoda’s biography of Neuhaus does justice to this man of faith who became a type of “grace to be reckoned with,” becoming a culture-altering tour de force. As Americans continue to explore the challenge of living one’s faith in the public square, this book is an enriching testament to a man who blazed that trail in his own lifetime, fearless of everything but God Himself.” – Carl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus


About the author

RANDY BOYAGODA is a professor of American Studies at Ryerson University in Toronto. His latest novel, Beggar’s Feast, was selected as a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, nominated for the 2013 IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize, and has been published to critical acclaim around the world. His debut novel, Governor of the Northern Province, was nominated for the 2006 ScotiaBank Giller Prize. He has written for a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, First Things, The New Statesman, and Harper’s. He lives in Toronto with his wife and four daughters.

To request a review copy or to schedule an interview with Randy Boyagoda, please contact Katie Moore, publicist,, 719-268-1936.

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