Pelé, called the “global face of soccer” by the New York Times, has died after a battle with cancer. After canceling more than 2,300 of its flights yesterday, Southwest Airlines plans to return to normal operations today “with minimal disruptions.” As Ukrainians face freezing winter temperatures, Russia has launched what appears to be one of its largest strikes to date on their energy infrastructure.
Police in Buffalo, New York, arrested ten people for looting amid the deadly winter storm that buried much of western New York. And 85 percent of rural land in California is now at a “high” or “very high” risk for wildfires, according to a new analysis.
Why did I begin today’s Daily Article with these stories? I never watched Pelé play soccer. I have no current plans to fly on Southwest Airlines. Nor do I live in Ukraine, western New York, or rural California. But you and I were made by God as empathetic, communal beings: “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). The happiness or pain of some is experienced as happiness or pain by the rest of us.
The same is true of experiences long past. Millions will sing “Auld Lang Syne” tomorrow evening with its question, “Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?”
And we seek happiness not just in the present and from the past but for the future. We will wish each other a “Happy New Year,” all the while wishing we could do more than wish for such happiness.
It turns out, we can. But only if we look in the right place.
Our souls need “seven rests”
According to an American Psychological Association survey, more than a quarter of Americans say they are so stressed most days that they cannot function. And more than one in five Americans report feeling serious anxiety or depression.
How should we respond?
Counselors tell us that some of our anxieties are avoidable and are due to hunger, sleep deprivation, being over-caffeinated, and medical issues. We can take practical steps such as addressing burnout and enhancing our well-being through a workout. We can free ourselves from “task paralysis” by breaking tasks down into small, tangible steps and rewarding ourselves when we complete them, and we can identify our wellness nonnegotiables such as coffee in the morning.
We are encouraged to face our crises with people we can trust who are navigating the same issues. And psychologists advise us to seek “seven rests”: physical, mental, sensory, emotional, social, creative, and spiritual.
The last “means connecting on a deeper level with something greater than ourselves,” which “can mean adding prayer, meditation, or purpose to our lives” through “a church, a volunteer program, community outreach, or even nature retreats.”
Life as a chest of drawers
In my survey of news sources regarding happiness, I was struck by their secularity. Even the paragraph on spirituality in the article on “seven rests” points us to “something greater than ourselves” with no suggestion that this “something” could be a Someone.
In Jesus the Great Philosopher: Rediscovering the Wisdom Needed for the Good Life, Jonathan T. Pennington notes that “our modern lives are often built like a chest of drawers, with distinct compartments for each area. Even as we keep our socks, underwear, exercise clothes, and jeans in different drawers . . . so too our lives have distinct compartments—health, relationships, money, education, leisure, religion.”
He adds: “Christian people have a specific drawer for Jesus. For some it is a low-placed half drawer that is only opened once a week or maybe twice a month on Sundays. For others—especially pastors and missionaries—the Jesus drawer is big and probably at the top of the cabinet with well-oiled rollers. Most Christians’ ‘Jesus drawers’ are somewhere in between.”
Pennington cites theologian Peter Leithart, who observed that many Christians are dualists, mistakenly living our lives like a layered cake with supernatural truths on the top layer of an otherwise natural cake. In this worldview, according to Leithart, the “church adds a spiritual dimension to my life but leaves my natural world more or less intact.”
While we have a “Jesus drawer” others do not, it is only one drawer among many.
How to “experience meaningful happiness”
Our culture has been compartmentalizing us into body, soul, and spirit since the ancient Greeks. Why is this bad for us?
According to Pennington, “Humans are organic beings who thrive only when the many parts of our lives are connected together. . . . We cannot treat our lives as if the various parts are unrelated and expect to experience meaningful happiness and the flourishing life that Jesus talks about.”
So, if we want happiness for ourselves and others in the coming year, we will need to travel the ancient pathway: “Delight yourself in the Lᴏʀᴅ, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). How do we do this? The psalmist explains: “Commit your way to the Lᴏʀᴅ; trust in him, and he will act” (v. 5).
Your “way” in the Hebrew refers to your “journey” today. When you “commit” or surrender it to God, you can “trust in him” to “act” in ways that “give you the desires of your heart.” C. S. Lewis was therefore right to claim, “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
James Clear advised us: “You just need to have the courage to eliminate everything that doesn’t directly feed what you really want.”
What do you “really want” in the coming year?
NOTE: Foundations with Janet, my wife’s digital Bible study ministry, has been hard at work developing an app that will allow you to engage in several of her available Bible studies as well as experience her new evening devotional project, Wisdom Matters. We hope you will find it helpful and that you will download the app on the Apple App store (click here for Android) before January 1 to receive the first devotional.