In search of the happy life

Disordered love, disordered lives . . . reordered love, reordered lives.

Appears in Summer 2008 Issue: The desires of the heart
June 1st, 2008

"I'm simply unhappy. If anyone is unhappy, I am." So mourned Leo Tolstoy's doleful character Anna Karenina in the famous novel that bears her name. Chances are that we can all identify with her dejected state at some point in our lives. Although some may tend to romanticize unhappiness, who among us, when actually miserable, doesn't wish that a present condition might change somehow for the better?

Happiness—we all want it, whether or not we are willing to admit it. Although we are rarely reluctant to wish people happiness on their birthdays or at the beginning of a new year, cynicism often abounds when people broach this topic overall. As the character Mac Sledge in the film Tender Mercies uttered on one occasion, "I don't trust happiness. Never did, never will." The humourist Garrison Keillor, of Prairie Home Companion fame, talking about being raised with a mid-western American fatalism, said something similar in a 2006 interview. "We come from people," he said, "who brought us up to believe that life is a struggle. And if you should ever feel really happy, be patient. This will pass."

We may be suspicious of happiness, but it is an innate human yearning, even a God-given desire. We are all, according to one truth-telling bumper-sticker, "In Search of the Eternal Buzz." If we are to be genuinely happy, then we need to know something about it. I am convinced that truth about the happy life is bound up with the essential components of the biblical narrative and the order of our loves.

God's recipe for the hapy life

In the account of creation in Genesis 1 & 2—a good news story if there ever was one—we discover that God formed, filled, and illuminated an initially formless, empty, and darkened earth. In six creative days, he fashioned all things into a beautiful world, designed for human habitation and well-being. Everything necessary for us to flourish was present in the beginning. Spiritually, we were made to enjoy intimate union and fellowship with God the Creator. Vocationally, we were made to undertake fulfilling work based on the commandment to rule the earth. Socially, we were made for companionship with our neighbours, especially as man and woman in the context of marriage and family. Nutritionally, we were made to partake freely of food and drink, as seen in the generous provision of plants, fruitful trees, and water in the Garden of Eden. Sabbatically, we were made to rest and play, based upon the blessing and sanctification of the seventh day. Habitationally, we were made to take pleasure in our surroundings since God set us in the delightfulness of Eden amidst the astounding beauty of the whole creation.

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