Flourish magazine, Spring 2010
There’s been an interesting theme in the news of late—have you noticed it? It’s an emphasis on happiness: what truly makes us happy, how to be happier, and how to calculate the happiness of a nation.
The sudden popularity of this topic emerges out of the publication of some recent books that look at studies on happiness: The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from New Research on Well-Being, by Derek Bok, and Happiness Around the World: The Paradox of Happy Peasants and Miserable Millionaires, by Carol Graham. The studies reveal interesting tidbits about human contentment, such as the fact that citizens of countries with lower GDPs frequently report higher levels of happiness than citizens of some of the world’s riches nations. Or that one of the activities most associated with happiness is having dinner with friends, while the activity seen as most detrimental to happiness is commuting. Or that limits give us greater happiness than license.
The results of the studies that spawned these books might seem obvious, but it is worth being reminded (by something more objective than our own intuition) of the fact that money and worldly success cannot purchase contentment. A study can serve that purpose, but in this issue of Flourish magazine, Matthew Sleeth reminds us that the Word of God, particularly Philippians 4, assures us that no worldly gain will satisfy us. As Christians walking in the light of that truth, explains Sleeth in his article “Christ vs. Consumerism: Choosing Contentment in a Commercialized World,” we are exempt from the gluttonous pursuit of power and wealth, and freed, instead, to live simple—and richly fulfilling—lifestyles; the kinds of lifestyles that benefit all of creation by their ability to foster contentment with less.
Indeed, the bulk of the articles in this issue emphasize the thoughtful stewardship of what is most important and meaningful to lives lived in the light of Christ. Lowell Bliss explains the role of the environmental missionary in creation care, boiling it down to the greatest motivator in the Christian life: love. Jason Howard and Silas House tell the story of Denise Giardina, a writer and believer who has dedicated her life and work to saving her people and place from the destruction of mountaintop removal mining. In his reflection on the movie blockbuster Avatar, Steven Garber presents the philosophical, theological, and even pop-cultural reasons why people and place—those elements of life that make us deeply contented—matter in the first place.
You’ll find other pieces here that will increase your happiness quotient: beauty and inspiration in the form of two poems from Debra Rienstra; helpful tips (and delectable dishes) from Rachel Stone to help you enjoy eating within the limited, but abundant, seasonal bounty of God’s earth; and the story of how one church is finding community and satisfaction in turning a turf lawn into a native garden.
And, out of his new book, Jonathan Merritt reminds us of the reason why a life of joy apart from the pursuit of vanity or wealth is even possible: Jesus Christ. May you know the peace and contentment that comes from Him as you read this issue of Flourish magazine.