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!


Chelsie said...

I read Readers Digest... and like it. I also have a deep love for our church and find great joy (and a lot of happiness) in gathering with the people that meet at SWC. I am thankful and blessed to get to have you as one of those people...

Whitney said...

I watched part of that show on PBS last night, and thought it was really interesting. I've commented to so many people recently about how different my life in Houston would be without our church. I think a lot of people my age end up only knowing people close in age, occupation, income level, and I'm so grateful for our congregation for exposing me to more.

BrandyMcD said...

I haven't read a Readers Digest in a long time but I loved it when I was younger. The only reason I haven't read one recently is time.

I agree that our church is very different from a club, for the same reasons you listed. Our members are very different in a lot of ways and Christ is our unifying factor. He is not a hobby.

married yoshimi said...

Unless I dreamt it, I'm almost certain I tried to submit jokes to Readers Digest a couple of times when I was younger! I used to love those stories, and would read them at my grandparents' house since they had a subscription.

I was stopped by the joy/happiness portion of what you wrote. for me, evolving has absolutely involved learning contentment and perspective, which I think contains a lot of joy... or maybe it just has more of an absence of pervasive worry or sadness so there's more room for lightness. those states certainly still waft in and out of my being but they don't persist the way they used to, mostly because I grow too uncomfortable to keep them around long without unpacking them and looking for the way out.

I also like what you said about church... I think a church family is designed to bless by providing a space to be accepted and loved and a people to be accountable to, a place to serve and show up and participate and listen and confess shared need. it has purpose and promotes growth, and I'm so thankful for it and you.

K Cummings Pipes said...

Your comments are a perfect example of what I mean by "expand my world." It would have taken me years and years to get to know you all if we had not been blogging. You are each a blessing to me.

Anonymous said...

It really frosts my cookies when people get an attitude about your choice of reading material. I wouldn't equate Us Weekly with War and Peace or anything, but this world has room for all sorts of reading, for many different purposes. People like that sneerer need to get their noses out of the air. Maybe I'm just defensive because so many people I've encountered in academia have implied that studying children's literature isn't serious scholarship...

Thanks for such a great post! I'm really enjoying your blog.