Christianity · Freedom · Identity · Mad Men · Selfishness

The Happiness Trap

Don: Why do we do this?

Roger: For the sex, but it’s always disappointing, for me anyway.

Mad Men has been asking this question all season, what is it that drives us and what do we do after we get everything we thought that we wanted? Can things really make us happy? Can one really be fulfilled in this life or is it just a quick succession of busy nothings? There always seems to be something better, just over the horizon, the grass is always greener, our friend’s wife is always prettier, our coworker’s car is always better and the list could go on forever.

Temporal things only bring temporal enjoyment. Don vividly and viciously explains this truth to a client when he says,

Are you? You’re happy happy with 50%? You’re on top and you don’t have enough. You’re happy because you’re successful for now. But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness. I won’t settle for 50% of anything, I want a 100%. You’re happy with your agency? You’re not happy with anything. You don’t want most of it, you want all of it. And I won’t stop until you get all of it.

We are slaves to this drive and we will do and continue to do anything to fulfill it. Just look at the world with its debt and credit, all because if we can just get that thing a the very moment we wanted it, it would complete something in us like a missing puzzle piece. And yet it doesn’t, it fails.

Glenn: Why does everything turn out crappy?

Don: What do you mean?

Glenn: I don’t know. Everything you wanna do, everything you thinks gonna make you happy just turns to crap.

Don: You’re too young to talk that way

Glenn: But it’s true.

Soloman, the richest , wisest man that ever lived said,

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.
(Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 ESV)

There seems to be little hope when we look at the world. If nothing here can give me lasting happiness, joy or peace, what is the point of living? The Apostle Paul says there is hope and he reminds us of where it comes from in Galatians 5, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Jesus says to his disciples in John 15,

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

When we look at this we think, “But this is hindering my fun, this is taking away my freedom”. Yet we have already seen we are slaves to our drive for happiness and that drive is insatiable. Jesus is offering us freedom from slavery and the gift of true fulfillment. He calls us to abide in his love and obey his commands; but if you look closely, his love and his commands are one in the same. For loves sake he has given us the way to navigate life that will lead to ultimate joy, fulfillment, peace and identity if I let go of myself and my desire to chase after the cheap thrills of fast-food dreams and one-night let downs. Jesus has lovingly given everything, provided everything if we would just let go of the mud pie and accept the vacation at the beach he is offering.

C.S. Lewis · Entitlement · Freedom · Rights · Selfishness

The Hell of Rights, Freedom and Entitlement

There is a a sickness that has been infecting the human race since the beginning of time. A woman decided that all she had was not enough and took the only forbidden object and ate it. Her husband followed her and ate as well, thinking, “I want to be like her and God, I want to be more than I was made to be. I don’t want to be just what I was created to be, but exceed that, break the mold.” The festering idea that I have a right to more than I have been given was born. Out of the pride of that moment the idea that humans had rights beyond what had been graciously given took over and fueled a desire for freedom beyond its original meaning. Freedom became the battle cry. Things were liberated from their intended purpose and design, warped, becoming twisted and evil. What people called freedom or rights became slavery, slavery to ideals that never should have existed.

C.S. Lewis in his dream book on Hell, The Great Divorce, illustrates this well in chapter four.

Almost at once I was followed by what I have called the Big Man-to speak more accurately, the Big Ghost. He in his turn was followed by one of the bright people. “Don’t you know me?” he shouted to the Ghost: and I found it impossible not to turn and attend. The face of the solid spirit-he was one of those that wore a robe-made me want to dance, it was so jocund, so established in its youthfulness.

“Well, I’m damned,” said the Ghost. “I wouldn’t have believed it. It’s a fair knock-out. It isn’t right, Len, you know. What about poor Jack, eh? You look pretty pleased with yourself, but what I say is, What about poor Jack?”

“He is here,” said the other. “You will meet him soon, if you stay.” “But you murdered him.” “Of course I did. It is all right now.” “All right, is it? All right for you, you mean. But what about the poor chap himself, laying cold and dead?”

“But he isn’t. I have told you, you will meet him soon. He sent you his love.”

“What I’d like to understand,” said the Ghost, “is what you’re here for, as pleased as Punch, you, a bloody murderer, while I’ve been walking the streets down there and living in a place like a pigsty all these years.”

“That is a little hard to understand at first. But it is all over now. You will be pleased about it presently. Till then there is no need to bother about it.”

“No need to bother about it? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

“No. Not as you mean. I do not look at myself. I have given up myself. I had to, you know, after the murder. That was what it did for me. And that was how everything began.”

“Personally,” said the Big Ghost with an emphasis which contradicted the ordinary meaning of the word, “personally, I’d have thought you and I ought to be the other way round. That’s my personal opinion.”

“Very likely we soon shall be.” said the other. “If you’ll stop thinking about it.”

“Look at me, now,” said the Ghost, slapping its chest (but the slap made no noise). “I gone straight all my life. I don’t say I was a religious man and I don’t say I had no faults, far from it. But I done my best all my life, see? I done my best by everyone, that’s the sort of chap I was. I never asked for anything that wasn’t mine by rights. If I wanted a drink I paid for it and if I took my wages I done my job, see? That’s the sort I was and I don’t care who knows it.”

“It would be much better not to go on about that now.”

“Who’s going on? I’m not arguing. I’m just telling you the sort of chap I was, see? I’m asking for nothing but my rights. You may think you can put me down because you’re dressed up like that (which you weren’t when you worked under me) and I’m only a poor man. But I got to have my rights same as you, see?”

“Oh no. It’s not so bad as that. I haven’t got my rights, or I should not be here. You will not get yours either. You’ll get something far better. Never fear.”

“That’s just what I say. I haven’t got my rights. I always done my best and I never done nothing wrong. And what I don’t see is why I should be put below a bloody murderer like you.”

“Who knows whether you will be? Only be happy and come with me.”

“What do you keep on arguing for? I’m only telling you the sort of chap I am. I only want my rights. I’m not asking for anybody’s bleeding charity.”

“Then do. At once. Ask for the Bleeding Charity. Everything is here for the asking and nothing can be bought.”

“That may be very well for you, I daresay. If they choose to let in a bloody murderer all because he makes a poor mouth at the last moment, that’s their lookout. But I don’t see myself going in the same boat with you, see? Why should I? I don’t want charity. I’m a decent man and if I had my rights I’d have been here long ago and you can tell them I said so.”

The other shook his head. “You can never do it like that,” he said. “Your feet will never grow hard enough to walk on our grass that way. You’d be tired out before we got to the mountains. And it isn’t exactly true, you know.” Mirth danced in his eyes as he said it.

“What isn’t true?” asked the Ghost sulkily.

“You weren’t a decent man and you didn’t do your best. We none of us were and we none of us did. Lord bless you, it doesn’t matter. There is no need to go into it all now.”

“You!” gasped the Ghost. “You have the face to tell me I wasn’t a decent chap?”

“Of course. Must I go into all that? I will tell you one thing to begin with. Murdering old Jack wasn’t the worst thing I did. That was the work of a moment and I was half mad when I did it. But I murdered you in my heart, deliberately, for years. I used to lie awake at nights thinking what I’d do to you if ever I got the chance. That is why I have been sent to you now: to ask your forgiveness and to be your servant as long as you need one, and longer if it pleases you. I was the worst. But all the men who worked under you felt the same. You made it hard for us, you know. And you made it hard for your wife too and for your children.”

“You mind your own business, young man,” said the Ghost. “None of your lip, see? Because I’m not taking any impudence from you about my private affairs.”

“There are no private affairs,” said the other.

“And I’ll tell you another thing,” said the Ghost. “You can clear off, see? You’re not wanted. I may be only a poor man but I’m not making pals with a murderer, let alone taking lessons from him. Made it hard for you and your like, did I? If I had you back there I’d show you what work is.”

“Come and show me now,” said the other with laughter in his voice. “It will be joy going to the mountains, but there will be plenty of work.”

“You don’t suppose I’d go with you?” “Don’t refuse. You will never get there alone. And I am the one who was sent to you.

“So that’s the trick, is it?” shouted the Ghost, outwardly bitter, and yet I thought there was a kind of triumph in its voice. It had been entreated: it could make a refusal: and this seemed to it a kind of advantage. “I thought there’d be some damned nonsense. It’s all a clique, all a bloody clique. Tell them I’m not coming, see? I’d rather be damned than go along with you. I came here to get my rights, see? Not to go sniveling along on charity tied onto your apron-strings. If they’re too fine to have me without you, I’ll go home.” It was almost happy now that it could, in a sense, threaten. “That’s what I’ll do,” it repeated, “I’ll go home, I didn’t come here to be treated like a dog. I’ll go home. That’s what I’ll do. Damn and blast the whole pack of you . . .” In the end, still grumbling, but whimpering also a little as it picked its way over the sharp grasses, it made off.