25 January 2010

Happiness, Church, and How to Find a Good Book

When I was an undergrad someone told me (in a sneering, snobbish tone) that "serious readers don't read Reader's Digest."  I said and still say, "Fie!" expressing  mild disgust, disapprobation, and annonyance (Dictionary.com) at such an idea.  The world is full of books and a serious reader needs all the help she can get to find the good ones.  
I've read and mostly enjoyed Reader's Digest since I was a very young child.  I've had the current issue (Feb)  in hand to fill odd moments for the last couple of days and found an item of interest.  On page 16 there is an article about Joy citing the work of Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert author of Stumbling on Happiness.  You may also have seen his NOVA series:  This Emotional Life
 I've visited
and downloaded a sample onto my Kindle--it's like a bookstore in my hand.  When I next walk through a book store (real or virtual) I'll browse this title and give it the librarian's read:  title page & catalog info, author bio if any, table of contents, introduction unless it's too long and a page or two here and there, maybe scan the index.  I may decide to buy it but probably not; the world is full of books and a serious reader must save money as well as time. 
Reading and bookstores and libraries make me happy, but perhaps the sneering snob is correct and I'm not a "serious reader" but a mere hunter/gatherer of books.

I'm intrigued by Daniel Gilbert's ideas.  At least in the Reader's Digest version he offers this advice on how to be happy:
  1. commitment "isn't just a sign of love; it's a cause of love."
  2. little things  "pleasure  that happens reliably... every day...changes your life."
  3. hang in there "Let time do what time does well."
  4. go to church (or somewhere) and I'll have a comment on that a bit later
  5. give to others
  6. invest in experiences not things
During my six decades of life, I've thought a lot about happiness probably because I'm often mildly or not so mildly depressed.  Happiness and Joy are related emotional states but they not the same thing.  Happiness is event-based; it depends on "happenings."  Joy is deeper and longer-lasting (perhaps even eternal) and can be summoned in times of unhappiness.  I once read that personal fulfillment required  something meaningful to do, something to look forward to, and someone to love and be loved by.  I connected to I Cor 13:13.  Faith is less a thought/feeling than a doing--a living as if there is reason to hope.  Hope is looking forward to something better, something more.  Love is both faith and hope and the fulfillment of both.  Love is joyful and eternal. 

Returning to Daniel Gilbert:  "Churchgoers are happier than non-church goers, but not for the reasons people expect... it's not the religion part... It's the going-to-church part. It's the holding hands and singing.  It's the knowing-folks-who-would-bring-you-soup-if-you-got-sick part.  Odds seem to me pretty good that you could also get all the benefits out of a really tight stamp-collecting club."  I agree that a community of caring is important to happiness and a defining aspect of church but it is only one aspect.  Church is far superior to  any club, no matter how "tight."   At least my church is.  Like a family, it is multi-generational--I mentor and am mentored throughout my life.  It lets me keep in touch with the edges of life, with the very young and the very old.  Like an ideal community, it is racially, ethnicly, economicly, socially, and culturally diverse--it expands my world.  Most clubs are based on a shared interest; a church is based on a shared interest and a shared life.  It, in fact, incorporates all six of the items on the above list:  it is a commiment to  God and to one another; it offers pleasure (that holding hands and singing thing) that happens reliably and changes lives; it offers comfort and hope and encouragement and tools to hang in there; it is a church;  it provides countless opportunities to give  time, money, and self; and it offers experiences and discourages materialism.  A club may give happiness; a good church is a well-spring of joy.

Serendipity:  last night the needs of one of our church members required DMP & I to forego the happiness of  play-off football and Masterpiece Theater's Emma.  Today when I checked out Daniel Gilbert's NOVA series, I find that I can watch the first episode of Emma  at
Yes!  I'm happy!

19 January 2010

Vote! Step One: Register

Vote! If you intend to vote in the Texas primaries on March 2nd you must register no later than February 1st. You can download a registration form using a link on the FAQ page.


06 January 2010

What I'm Reading...

Today is Epiphany, Twelfth Night, which celebrates my favorite aspect of the Christmas story:  wisdom and power bow down before mystery and vulnerability and offer gifts of wealth, worship, and sacrifice.   Our tree remains since it's still drinking water and its needles are still soft and its fragrance fresh but eventually I will have to take it down. It's not surprising that I'm still reading Christmas notes, newsletters, gift books, post-holiday sale catalogs, and catching up on periodicals.
I have been reminded of why I bother subscribing to and reading The Economist as I have greatly enjoyed the holiday double issue, dated December 19th 2009-January 1st 2010.  Of particular note were articles on violin-making, the virtues of pessimism, too many chains (religious freedom), the Harry Potter economy, hedonism & claret, dark matter rumors, language, joys of dirt, network effects (techonology and newpapers), an interesting book review (Wade, Nicholoas:  The Faith Instinct:  How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures.  Penguin Press.), and comments on an exhibition on human identity and on the vampire lit phenom. 

I also read all the fine print at http://www.medicare.gov/ as I gathered information and helped people enroll in Medicare Part D Prescripiton Drug Plans.

My daily Bible reading this year will be from http://www.pcusa.org/lectionary/


Mabie, Hamilton Wright:  Fairy Tales Every Child Should Know.  Doubleday, 1905.  Project Gutenberg.  Kindle.  Beatrix Potter got me started so I'll be nibbling children's lit for a bit.

Numeroff, Laura & Bond, Felicia:  If You Take a Mouse to the Movies.  Harper-Collins, 2009.  The latest addition to the charming series that both DMP and I enjoy.  We love to share the "if you give" books with children who come to visit.  This edition is a gift from Sonya and includes a CD and sheet music and cookie recipes and family activities.  What fun!   http://www.mousecookiebooks.com/

Willems, Mo:  Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!  New York:  Hyperion, 2003.  Caldecott Honor Book.  Another gift from Sonya.  A clever little book that teaches a young child how to say "no."  I'll be adding this book to the children's collection in the church library.


Paulson, Beth:  Wild Raspberries.  2008 Another gift from David because "she seems to speak what you feel" and this Ouray, CO poet is one of my favorites.  Previous books are The Company of Trees and The Truth about Thunder.

Bedside Book:

Merrill, Nan C.:  Psalms for Praying:  an invitation to wholeness.  New York/London:  Continuum, 2006.   This reworking of the Psalms emphasizes "God is love..."   It is by no means an accurate translation but it is a response to the timeless text and gives a fresh voice to psalmic prayer.  Highly recommended!

Peterson, Eugene H.: Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A conversation in spiritual theology. Kindle. I've lingered in the section on Eucharist and hospitality, fascinated with  the discussion of Dom Gregory Dix:  The Shape of the Liturgy (1941) which notes four verbs:  take, bless, break, and give.  In fact, I'm probably going to read that section again.


Whitaker, Evelyn: Laddie. We continue our discussion of the 19th Century woman novelist as theologian.