Friday is for Friends

Thinker.jpgWe’re looking at happiness and using David Naugle, Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness,and what he says here dovetails nicely with our examination of Jean Twenge’s book about the iGens. There is a significant increase in anxiety and depression records today, and there is also a constant pursuit of happiness.

But why can’t people find happiness? Everyone in history has agreed that happiness is the general pursuit of all of us — but humans don’t find it. Why?

Naugle examines both theological and cultural reasons for why we don’t find happiness. We are ignorant of the chief good for humans and we are ignorant for a variety of reasons:

Humans are curved in on themselves for some reason. Naugle points to texts in the Bible, like Jeremiah 10:14 or 13:25 or 17:9 or to Jesus in Matt 15:14 and John 8:12 and Paul in Romans 1:18-25. His point: there is a problem in the cognitive condition of humans.

Why can’t opponents get together and reason together to a peaceful resolution? Why can’t a man and woman, who have at least loved one another in the past or who actually do love one another, make peace with one another? Why do parents turn against kids and kids against parents? Why do good thinkers observe the same phenomena and come to different conclusions? Do you believe in original sin and does it impact the mind? If you don’t buy the original sin explanation, how do you explain this yawning abyss of ignorance and seeming willful ignorance by humans? Why are we afraid of truth?

Naugle then sketches the history of great thinkers who point to a problem in the cognitive condition of humans: Plato’s dark cave, Aristotle’s perplexity about means and ends, Augustine’s abyss of rebellion, Aquinas’ appeal to the intellect’s weakness, Calvin’s perception that the human mind is an “idol factory,” Francis Bacon’s belief that minds are subservient to false intellectual gods, Kant’s appeal to knowing only what appears to us but not what is as they are in themselves, Nietzsche’s belief that all we have is perspective, and Rorty’s conviction that we only have practical tools but not genuine truths.

How odd, then, that so many today want to think only of the positives.

What about the plethora of beliefs in culture of what brings happiness?

Theism: love God as creator and redeemer
Deism: Be good, serve a transcendent God
Pantheism: Live in harmony with the divine cosmos
Polytheism: Placate the gods
Naturalism: Exalt the self and enjoy the world
Materialism: Find pleasures and consume them
Existentialism: Authenticity comes by choosing
Spiritualism: Consciousness expansion, meditation
Paganism: devotion to gods of self, sex, occult, enviroinment, technology, etc

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  • The happiest people I’ve ever met lived on a primitive, remote Fijian island in the South Pacific. At first, I thought their happiness was a put-on, but after a week on that island I realized that their peace, contentment and deep-rooted joy were not only authentic, but far more robust than anything I had experienced in industrialized cultures (Asia, USA, W. Europe, etc.).
    These villagers, about 150, have no electricity, no plumbing, no TV. They garden and fish and have a well. They have a common school and are bi-lingual (English / Fijian). They have a small dispensary staffed by a island-traveling nurse for medical emergencies. Some move to the big island of Vitu Levu for school or work, but most stay in the village, living and dying much like their Polynesian ancestors have for over 1000 years.
    They possess a simple faith and a simple life, with a level of contentment and happiness totally unknown to most of us. They are what I would classify as “upscale third world.” When I think of our technology and industrialization, our manic use of fossil energy and natural resources, our consumerism and frenetic lifestyles — I also often think of my Fijian village friends and wonder: who is living more in harmony with creation? Who has the better life?

  • Oh.. so to answer the question, “why can’t people find happiness?” I would suggest (from Naugle’s list) that Materialism may be our chief impediment to living in harmony with creation, and experiencing the natural depths of happiness of contentment.

  • Brenden M

    I know we’ve heard this before, but hasn’t God put in us a “God-size” hole that only He can fill? Then happiness and all other fulfillment can only be found in Him. And the reason humans have not found happiness is exactly what Romans 1:25 says, we “exchanged the truth of God for the lie”. Even today we still exchange God’s truth with the lie that working harder and longer will make us happier and more fulfilled. John L, i agree, materialism is just the fuel to burn the fire of the lie even hotter.

  • I just wrote an email to someone that was wrestling with this question. I think the passage that speaks of all of creation groaning and all of us groaning with it speaks to this deep longing in all of man. In the fall, we lost the perfection that we were made for, and all of our lives we fight to keep that deep longing from taking over.
    In Christ we find hope and meaning, but even in Christ we are still in a broken world and so we still groan inwardly…

  • RJS

    This is a depressing post on happiness. Ultimately I do think that it is “original sin” – but not impacting mind – rather impacting relationship. I guess this is mind in a sense – but it is not that we are incapable of realist thought, rational thought, but that self and idolatry and rebellion breaks and distorts relationships with each other.

  • One of the paradoxes of our time is that, though, as Scott says, there has been a significant increase in depression and anxiety, there has also been a worldwide increase in reported happiness (the figures for the US have stayed about the same). Mean scores on happiness in virtually every country are above the midpoint. I certainly believe that Naugle is right to claim that most people are ignorant concerning the chief good for humankind. Given the results of happiness surveys, though, I think the proper question to ask is not “Why can’t people find happiness?” but “Why do so many people who are living lives that seem seriously misdirected nevertheless state that they are happy?”