Reframe the “Good Life”
Ecclesiastes 2:3-13 October 20, 2020
Rev. David J. Clark
Today I want to talk about living a ridiculously good life–a coin termed by Nick Vujicic. Because what’s the point of just aiming for a good life when a ridiculously good life is an option.
In the pursuit of our own truths, we need to ask ourselves from time to time, what is it all about? What is my definition of a good life? What am I aiming for? What’s my strategy to get there?
So what for you is a good life? Maybe it’s about having a boatload of money, or maybe you define it by how well you live out your own moral code, not make too many mistakes. Maybe you define it by having good relationships, or how well you kids turn out or a sense of purpose. At the end of your life, what are the criteria you would use to say whether you were successful?
If you don’t occasionally look at what you are aiming for, it’s easy to drift off course and head in the wrong direction. Like they say, “It’s okay to climb the ladder of success; just make sure your ladder is leaning up against the wall you really want to get to the top of.” That is, sometimes we need to ask, “What is it that I really want to be successful at? What is the point of all this?
If you were to put a picture in this frame of you living the good life–what would it look like? You doing what, with whom?
The book of Ecclesiastes is an unusual book in the Bible. Only a dozen little chapters. Some attribute the authorship to King Solomon, who was King David’s son. After David, Solomon had a very successful reign. He brought peace, expansion of the kingdom, tremendous prosperity. And late in life, he offers his reflections and lessons about the meaning of life. What’s worth doing, what’s worth having, what’s worth pursuing? He says he tried
- Wisdom but it is a waste of time (vanity=vapor worse than meaningless)
- Work–projects, homes, gardens reservoirs. Sought happiness through work. Vanity.
- Wealth/possessions. King Solomon’s net worth $2.2 T. Leads to more greed, empty life, worrying about it, trying to protect it, etc.
- Women– 1K wives and concubines. Some right relationships. Never enough.
His advice has been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. Those are good to have in life, but if you make them your aim you will miss out on the ridiculously good life.
Bill Irvin in his book A Guide to the Good Life says at the root of most of our attempts is a form of hedonism that is to say a desire to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Irvin says there are two kinds of hedonism. Unenlightened says I don’t care about you, just me I want to be happy. Look out for #1. All about me. But this has unsavory consequences. We often lose out on long-term rewards because we are trapped in pursuing short-term pleasures. And it hurts others. If you don’t care about others, if you treat people as objects rather than sacred you will wind up doing damage. It’s the kind of stuff that leads to entitlement and people who do unto others what they think they can get away with. An obvious example of objectifying people is how easily it leads to sexual assault.
Enlightened hedonism says I’ve got resp to others, but my primary aim is to maximize my pleasure. Irvin says for most Americans this is our default philosophy. So the question is, why aren’t we happier? Look at all the symptoms of our unhappiness our dis-ease. Less than a third of Americans report being happy. 70% hate their jobs. All the depression, all the things people use to numb or zone out instead of embracing life. Maybe there is something wrong with our basic pursuit.
Psychologist talk about hedonic adaptation or the hedonic treadmill. The premise is that we all have a baseline of happiness, our default setting. It’s different for different people. Some people are way up–I had a friend in college, who I thought of as terminally perky. I’ve got other Eeyore friends. It’s just how they are wired. We all have this baseline and when something good or bad happens we get a little bump upward or downward in our happiness but it wears off and we return to normal.
That’s why when you achieve desire it’s never as gratifying as you hoped it would be. If I think the new car will make me happy, I’ll probably revert back to the baseline before new car smell wears off. The new phone next features. Change house just bought. If the desire of the thing becomes the main thing. This desire, this hunger leads to more pain. All this stuff still not happy. Anxiety and panic disorder affect upper classes more.
They call it a treadmill because we keep looking for all of these things or experiences to make us happy but they don’t lead anywhere. We are just hamsters on a wheel. All that energy. The author of Ecclesiastes recognized it as vanity, vapor, worth less than a waste of time.
Adam and Eve have it all but were told there is just one thing you can’t have. What becomes the object of their desire? What do they put in their frames? It’s the archetypal story about what it is to be human. We wind up out of paradise when chasing.
Once again, we can settle down our restless hearts simply by wanting the stuff we already have. How? Give thanks for what you have. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. When you stop to give thanks you savor it more, appreciate it more. Some believe Christians have a leg up on gratitude because we have it built in to pray 3 times a day. Once for every meal.
The staple of cheap food. If you’ve ever come through hard times when you lived on Ramen noodles and mac and cheese it’s easier to remember that and truly feel thankful. Thank you I have something, I’m alive. That stuff tastes better. This is true in every part of our lives. Hedonic adapt in relationships. Why can’t you be more like her or him? Our feelings cycle in intensity falling in and out of love. Countless relationship books are written on finding ways to appreciate what the other brings, and how you can honor that and bring your best self to the relationship. The secret to changing it is to think about the blessings you have. Give thanks rather than complaining.
Robert Emmons UC Davis. People who keep gratitude journals or routinely give thanks are happier, more fulfilled more flourishing people. Emot and physical health relationships with each other. Philippians 4 says Rejoice always. Pray continually and give thanks. Epistle of joy because he learned.
Try this. This week every day set it as a goal. 3X per day. First key to good life.
Remember: God wants you to be happy. A surprise to some. Some churches heavy dose of guilt dour. Jesus in Jn 10:10 have life and have it abundantly. That’s why I came Jesus says. Luke 12 Take care to be on guard against all kinds of greed. Life not in abundance of possessions.
After the author of Ecclesiastes tells us about all the stuff that doesn’t work. He gets down to telling us what is meaningful. Worship God and keep the commandments. Good life is in the spiritual journey where you trust that there is a good center of things and you don’t have to do it by yourself. You follow Jesus’s way.
In our bond of union, we refer to that. Two great commandments, love God and love neighbor as yourself. Micah 6: Be compassionate, do justice, walk humbly with God.
When our lives are not so turned in on ourselves and our immediate pleasures, we begin to experience the good life.
Some people act as if the goal of life is to retire young and play golf every day. But after a few months, it wears off. A vibrant successful person can retire and then lose their drive and deteriorate physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally. There needs to be something, some reason to make a difference.
I see happy people all the time. They know what we are doing as a church is important. They give their time, their money, they make a difference. We help people on their journeys, giving them resources and encouragement. We provide assistance to the community. We make beautiful music and elevate our spirits. We produce such a positive charge. Doing something that makes a difference, makes a contribution is not just about giving back–it is a way to charge your life with positive energy.
Nick Vujicic wrote a book about living a ridiculously good life. It was a hard journey. He almost took his own life at age 10. He was born with no arms and legs, never going to feed himself, no job, no girlfriend, get married. Why go on living? About that time he decided just to trust there was a God who knew his name, trust there was something God could do with him. Then he tried to figure that out as grew up. His answer. Glorify God and help other people. He found people would listen to him. Teaches around the world. Youtube videos. Amazing guy. 1 foot with 2 toes, snowboard, got married and children. Swim surf and jump out of airplanes. The good life came when stop focus on own challenges. Everything you do to make someone else’s life better makes your life better, too.
It’s a great reminder to reframe what is important and how we get there. Amen.