Is Happiness Sustainable?
"As life develops and matures and decays, it seems there's a limit to the duration of our happiness," Nathan Rittenhouse observes. What does it mean to be happy? Is happiness sustainable for real life?
Well, it really is a pleasure for me to be here with you. I'm not a graduate of the University of Virginia. I am a graduate of your hospital, and I'll talk more about that in the talk on Friday. So there's a little bit of a spoiler alert, I have the University of Virginia to thank for the way that my face looks, which my brothers tell me I should demand a refund for. It turns out with the whole physics background thing, if you try to take out a Jeep with a bicycle, it never works out for the guy on the bike. I've just always loved big ideas, big questions, playing in the world of ideas, and so I think sort of what happened to me in life is I sort of got, in my academic pursuits, my physics and my metaphysics tangled up and ended up with theology in some sort, and that brings us to the type of question that we want to answer this evening, and the title of tonight's talk is, Is Happiness Sustainable?
There are two versions, two answers to this. One is very short, and then there's a bit of a more in-depth answer to it. And so the short answer to the question, is happiness sustainable, is no, because you can only listen to Pharrell Williams sing about it on loop so many times before your phone battery dies, and then your happiness is over. The sustainability of your happiness is dependent on the battery life of your phone, and maybe that is true in more ways than we want to admit, and true in more categories than we'd like to admit. But for the more detailed answer to that, we have to back up and think a little bit about why is it that so many of us would come out on an evening like this to even consider the question about the sustainability of happiness? We all, I do believe, believe in happiness, and maybe part of that is, there could be all kinds of reasons for that. We're sort of programmed for that in the children's stories that we've read, even as we're children, there are fairytales where we're longing for happily ever after. They end with a happily ever after. That is the conclusion of the, the quintessential ending to a fairytale.
I think maybe it's not that we call them fairytales because that they have a happy ending, but it's because of the duration of the happiness. It's not that we don't believe happiness exists. The fairytale aspect is the duration of the happiness. And so somehow in this concept of happiness, we have to factor in time into it. There's a longterm nature to the happiness that we crave, and the problem with that fairytale ending of happily ever after is that happiness in the long term can reveal the unintended consequences, and longterm happiness, the things that are idealized in the fairytales actually in real life end up growing wrinkles and warts and bumps, and as life develops and matures and decays, it seems that there is a limit to the duration of our happiness.
So we need to not only wrestle with the definitions of what it means to be happy, but then how to think about fitting those definitions into real time, into real life. I don't want to serve you a dish of ethereal platitudes, but something that we can actually hold onto and grasp and think about how this actually is going to influence the way that I live my life tomorrow morning when I wake up. Now, you're students at the University of Virginia. You're paying good money to be here, to learn about these ideas. And fortunately, when it comes to the question of happiness, one of your professors wrote a book on it, The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt. Anybody read this book or heard of Jonathan Haidt? He doesn't teach here anymore, he teaches at NYU. This was written in 2006. He's more well known for his books, The Righteous Mind, and more recently, just this year, he published The Coddling of the American Mind. Jonathan Haidt taught in the psychology department here when he wrote this book, and so here I have the textbook answer for the UVA student on happiness and the purpose of life. Now I can tell by the looks on your faces that you're all just riveted there on the edge of your seat to see how this book is going to conclude, and so let me read this for you. The concluding chapter is the summary of the whole book, and so it's actually the finality to the penultimate chapter where he kind of lands the plane of giving us this. And fascinatingly, he connects happiness to the meaning of life for the conclusion of this section.
And so here's what he says. He's talking about the question, what is the purpose of life? And he says, I don't believe that there is an inspiring answer to the question, what is the purpose of life, prepositions being important here. Yet by drawing on ancient wisdom and modern science, we can find compelling answers to the question of purpose within life. The final version of the Happiness Hypothesis is that happiness comes from between. Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality.
Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you. Listen here. Just as plants need sun, water and good soil to thrive, people need love, work and connection to something larger. It's worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. Last sentence of this conclusion, if you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge. You're like well, that might not be that entirely profound, a little bit of a letdown to the end of that, but I think it's an insightful articulation of what we sense to be true, that we need a deep sense of what it means to be fully human, and to have happiness is to have fulfillment in our relationships, in our work, and a connection to something broader than ourself. This is not a religious text. Haidt identifies sort of as a secular Atheist Jew. So this is his, from a moral psychology perspective, what it is that we need in order to be happy. And so there's that element. That's the happiness definition, and then the concept of sustainability is everywhere, including on this trash can right here. Trash, just sustainability.Virginia.edu. Right there it is, on the little landfill trash. You know why it says landfill? Because statistics show that if they label it landfill, you're less likely to throw recyclable material in that if you think this is going in the landfill, so that encourages you to do a better job of recycling. Because they're interested in sustainability.
We're interested in the perpetuation of the good things that we have. And it's interesting how many of you, for example, just to illustrate something maybe that's been in the news, have read the New Green Deal? The Green New Deal? Okay, a couple hands there, yeah, it's only like 14 pages, you could probably read it in like five minutes, it's outlined, and I'm not here to talk about the ecological or economic viability of that, just to point out that it's a massive issue in our culture, the idea of sustainability, and how we treat and care for and project into the future what it is that we have now.
Now, we'll talk a little bit more about some of the details of that, 'cause that isn't just about sustainability. It's about a desire for something else. But if I'm just sitting here thinking as a Christian, which I am, about a desire for us to connect with something bigger than ourselves, for us to have meaningful work, to care for the Earth, and to have clarity in what it means to be in proper relationships with each other, that from a biblical perspective, gets me all the way to Genesis chapter two. And so our ancient wisdom and modern science can articulate the problems for us, but they haven't given us all the answers, and I think that's why religion sticks around. Here we have the academic book that so neatly and systematically ties together the issue of what we're longing for, and then we pick up something like the bible that starts off with the description of God creating humanity. And in Genesis chapter two, we find the Lord God took man and put him in the garden of Eden to do what? To work it and to take care of it.
So we have humanity placed on Earth to work it and to take care of it, they're given meaningful work and a relationship with a god with a specific outlook on how the Earth is to be taken care of, and then they're only told not to do one thing, don't eat of this certain fruit of this tree, of the knowledge of good and evil, and then God also looks at this situation and says, it's not good for man to be alone. This is a creature that I made for a relationship. And so all of these things that our culture is longing for, all of the things that our science is pointing toward as things that we need to satisfy these conditions, I'm not necessarily saying that Jonathan Haidt wrote the preamble to the bible, not giving him quite that much academic credit, though he does write some very interesting things, but more so just to use that as a way of funneling in and saying that scripture does point to big issues. These are actual things that the world is wrestling with. We're not talking about some sort of six, however many million, thousand years ago, idea of floating around in a sort of metaphysical system. We're talking about now.
We have these questions, and I don't need to convince you of that, but I just wanted to point out some of the things in our world that scripture highlights of this is a question that humanity has been wrestling with for a long time. And what's fascinating to me is that when you start looking at everything from the Hebrew bible to the Greek philosophers, happiness hasn't been the goal actually of fulfillment of what it means to be human. There are different words that are used, everything from blessed to fulfillment. It's a deeper rooted sort of idea, I think because we have this general idea that happiness is based off of a happening, that it's temporal and it's fleeting, and we're looking for something that's deeper than that. And so perhaps maybe a word that would be the next step deeper from happiness is satisfaction. And it's true, I think, that we could agree that the sustainability of satisfaction is directly proportional to the stability of the thing that satisfies you. Does that make sense?
The sustainability or your satisfaction is directly proportional to the stability of the thing that gives you that satisfaction. And so what are the things that we look for in this world to give us satisfaction? Well, it could be in relationships with other people, and that's fine, those are satisfying. But again, the sustainability of that satisfaction is dependent on the stability of that relationship. People will ultimately let us down. We could put it in our career, that our satisfaction comes from doing what we are good at doing, and that might lead to a bit of an existential crisis when you retire and you're no longer doing that thing. Our jobs are finicky, markets are unpredictable. We could put it in all sorts of things that seem to be temporal, and maybe even our desire to steward the planet well in some ways is a desire to look at the permanence of it. Can we hang on to this thing, because this is the thing that satisfies us, and we must protect it.
All of these things are, and you can pick your own poison there. I'm sure that there are things in your mind that you can think of, like I really hoped in this at some point in my life, and it just didn't come around to be helpful. Now out on campus, I don't know if you saw it or not, there was a board that was constructed, and it had, in order to be happy, I need, dot dot dot. Did anybody write an answer on that, did anybody see that going by? Alright, you guys were all, okay, a couple of you, were all in more interesting parts of campus today. What do I need to be happy? I once did a similar kind of idea with this at the Royal Welsh College in Wales, and I was a little bit more edgy, and I said, I wrote the question for public comment, what gives you satisfaction? Now when you write what gives you satisfaction on a university campus and pose that in public for people to comment on, you have to be prepared for some fairly interesting responses to that. As many of your fellow students put on that board today of all kinds of interesting things. You know what? There was one thing in common between the students at the Royal Welsh College and UVA. Guess what that one thing in common, I compared the list.
Tea. Both people said I need tea to be happy or to sustain my satisfaction. I didn't see that one coming, you didn't see that one coming at all, did you? I thought, well perhaps our vision is a little bit too low here of what deep satisfaction actually means, or I just haven't been drinking tea properly in life. And so it comes back to that idea of, actually when we look at the things and we write them down, we see that there's an instability to them in a certain way. Now what's interesting about this is that sustainability isn't actually that great, unless the thing that you currently have is awesome. And so you have to have something awesome in order to want to sustain it, or sustainability isn't that great.
I mean, let's be honest. You can be in a bad situation, sustainability is not what you want. And that's why it's fascinating to me that often times we use the word sustainable, but we're actually looking for something more in the category of restoration or redemptive. And so I think what you see in even the political documents that talk about sustainability, it's a longing for something else, something else that is yet to come. How many of you would say that you could name five professional athletes, if I passed out a thing? Okay, how many of you could name five celebrities that are married to somebody, you know the spouse's name? Okay, how many of you could name five politicians? How many of you could name five farmers that you're following that are actually passionate about ecology and are doing a good job of redemptive agriculture? One, two? That's probably a problem.
This is totally off topic now, but it's interesting that one of the things we say we're committed to, we know almost nothing about. And so that's something for us to think about as we're thinking about what's the next step. Is it enough to sustain what we have, or are there ways that through human interaction we can cultivate the Earth to increase biodiversity, to sequester more carbon into the soil, to produce more food in a smaller amount of space in an environmentally friendly way? And that's the question now. It's not enough if you're a local farmer to have a organics certificate. Now you need a regenerative agriculture organic certificate to show that not only are you not just degrading the soil by increasing the organic inputs, but you're actually doing something that benefits that grows. Does that make sense? We don't just want to sustain, we want to move forward. We want something better. We want something that's fuller, we want something that's richer, something that's deeper. And to use the agricultural thing here, nobody is farming in a sustainable way right now. All productive farms are relying on outputs from the outside in order to sustain the level of output that they're producing. That's the way that it works. But we talk about sustainability, but we're dependent on information from the outside in order to satisfy the nutritional needs that we need in order to grow the things that feed us. And here's where you're thinking, oh shoot. Now he's talking about we need output from the outside in order to sustain us. This is sounding a little bit theological. And the trick is that it's gonna get worse before it gets better here, because as Christians, when we look at this question, as we think about hey, you know what? The scripture gives us the framework at the beginning of the question that we're trying to answer today, but then it goes on for 66 more books about talking to the answer to the solution to those questions that we've been wrestling with for so much time, but it doesn't give us a nice, tidy silver bullet for happiness. In fact, Christianity calls us to give up a lot.
There is no nice answer to this from a Christian perspective is happiness sustainable, because Jesus is difficult. The answer to that is no. He calls us to give up everything from our life, take up your cross and follow me, to deny our selfish ambition, even our life, we might have to lose it, we have to love our enemies, to serve other people in every category, from our finances to our sexuality to our ambition to our families, Jesus demands all of that. And so I can't really stand here and say, oh hey, become a Christian and your life's gonna be happy. There was a young guy from my home church who got baptized on Sunday, and I preached a sermon that Sunday morning trying to talk him out of it. And I just went through and looked at historically what happens to people when they become Christians, everybody from John the Baptist being beheaded to Jesus getting skewered, to the disciples all getting killed in gruesome ways, all up through the early church, people been getting killed in the streets with rocks. Hey, this is what you're signing up for. And by the end of painting that picture, I said, is this still something you want to be a part of? And he yelled, yes! That's weird. Why are there millions of Christians who look at an invitation of Christ who's like, you know what, when you follow me, your life probably will get worse. This is a guy who himself when he got baptized, just ran off into the desert to fight with devil for 40 days. Huzzah! Is that a happiness? And you're thinking, man, this guy has serious issues. He just left his family behind to come all the way over here to tell me about something that will make my life categorically worse.
But it isn't that. I'm painting a bit of a skewed picture here for you. And we can see the parallels of this in other things in life. You're here as a student at an excellent university because you're not scared of a little difficult work and of adversity and hard work and trouble, because you have a bigger vision of what that struggle, what that trouble actually brings. We're talking about moments that are difficult, that sustain and build and set the conditions for a quality of life that is deeper, that is worth the momentary difficulty. And so, I can't offer you anything from a Christian perspective that gives you any sort of short term utopia. That's not offered. Jesus just doesn't do that. In fact, he prayed to God that his followers would not be taken out of the world, that they would remain in the conflict of it, which I think is a reflection of his heart, because he didn't stay aloof from the problems that we had. He rolled up his sleeves and stepped right into it.
And so what Jesus offers is a peace in the midst of life. It's not an invitation to join a parade float that takes you onto another plane of reality and you can just kinda whistle and toss candy to everybody for the rest of your existence. This is a down on the street level type of interaction, and the question is, and that's why you have the biblical writers wrestling with this concept of the brokenness and the beauty of the world all together at the same time, in the chaos of this, there's something beautiful to it.
And then they use language like, restores my soul, which sounds a whole lot deeper than, God makes me happy. It's hitting at a deeper level than the mere happenings around us. And one of the fascinating ways that this vocabulary then comes out of the Christian life of what it means to walk in the way of Christ in a difficult world is the idea of contentment. And there's a nice word, right? Contentment sounds deeper than happiness, too. And so early Christian writers, people like a guy named Paul can talk about, hey, I've been stoned, not in the Colorado way but like with rocks, I've been stoned, I've been beaten, I've been shipwrecked, I've been naked, I've been hungry, but I've also been in times of great pleasure. I've been in the dark, and I can keep on preaching, and it's totally fine. And what he says in the midst of that is that I have learned to be content in all circumstances. That worked out awesomely well, come on.
- And so what he says is that in the midst of that, seriously though, he's looking at like real life happens, you can't predict what's gonna happen next. And Paul is an example of that, of way worse things happening to him, and he says in the midst of this, I've learned the secret of what it means to be content. And what's fascinating to me about that is he sees a difficulty in being content, not just in the problems of life, but he also sees a difficulty in being content in the pleasures of life. He said, I've learned what it means to be content in all of these situations, and we often I think, think in terms of the problem of pain and suffering around us, and how do we find contentment in that?
One of the most challenging things that is going to happen to a group of people like yourselves who are sitting here is you're going to succeed in this life and be miserable. Now that's not like a prophetic declaration of me, thus sayeth the Lord, it's just that it's categorically possible to tick all the little boxes of what you think will be a perfect future and not be content within that. And then Paul goes on to say a pretty famous verse, he's talking about being content in every circumstance, and he says I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. Which I know shocks you that isn't a verse that you just paint on yourself at football games. It's about the ability to be content in the midst of everything, but what's fascinating is this idea of a blessed life or the restoration of the soul, of a deep contentment that is given to me, is just that. It's something that's given to me from the outside. And maybe this is I think where Haidt is right. He says, you can't search for this and get it. It's the byproduct of something else. You can't pursue this and achieve it. You have to get the conditions right.
And so Jesus doesn't offer us that escape from the problems of the world, or like I said, an escapism from the brokenness of the world. We see it modeled in his life, that he is most often in the gospels out in the middle of nowhere, loving and healing and teaching. And he says fascinating things, like let not your heart be troubled. He's trying to stabilize there. He says, my peace I leave with you. And then he clarifies, because he says, I leave you not as the world does. And you're like, ya think?
This is the guy who just got killed right after this. I hope it's a different kind of peace than the world has to offer. But it's this idea of a peace in the presence of pain. And so what we see here really in the, and this is just a crawl scripture, is this idea that okay yes, happiness is based off of a happening, but satisfaction and contentment and deep joy are all deep states of being. They're not based on happiness or happenings. They're all deep states of being, and they form a chord progression off of which the events in the Jazz rifts of our life do bring real moments of happiness, but they maintain the beat when the solo has ended.
And so that's what I'm kind of trying to draw out of us this evening, is what is that deep, steadfast chord progression of the song of your life? And you're gonna have all kinds of awesome moments that orbit around that and riff off of it, but do you have that solid, stable core, that when the solo stops the purpose of life continues?
There's a depth to your joy, to your satisfaction, to your commitment, that goes beyond that moment. It's interesting that Jesus sees a need for this, and so often times the types of language that he uses is an invitation to himself for us to be satisfied. And so, for one example, one time he stands up and he says, let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. And this is not an invitation to the tea drinkers in Wales and UVA, it's a bit deeper than that, it's a bit broader than that. Let anyone who is thirsty, he picks up this language of the soul, of a longing for something that satisfies and satiates in a way that we can't quite find something in this world to satisfy that. And he points to himself as that, and says, whoever believes in me as the scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within. And so we see in the invitation of Christ and an acceptance into something that then produces something into us, or in us, that then comes and flows out of this, it's a world of abundance, not of sustainability but of fullness. It goes beyond.
I think to link this back in then, if we're saying that actually to be happy and to understand that well in the context of time, how then do we leak in these deeper moments of satisfaction and commitment? I think the way to do that is to recognize that those are sort of eternal in the sense where they help us transcend the moment that we're in, because stabilized satisfaction remembers and rejoices in the completion of the good things from the past. So there's the hindsight. It embraces the peace of the present, and it grins with hope for the future.
All of these things are then tied up into this idea of the invitation of what it is that God offers us. It's beyond just the present moment in which we live. We want to be connected to that. We want to love each other well. We want to have meaningful work, and we need to connect to something bigger than ourselves.
Well that sounds great, but what does that even mean? What does that practically look like, to connect with something bigger than ourselves? And here, once again, we have a lot of options in this world. One of the big ones is, I think we're longing for, so he uses sort of that ambiguous language of connecting with something bigger than ourselves. I think nature does that for a lot of people, right? You can go stand on, you live in proximity to a lot of great hiking here, you can go stand on the mountaintop and there's a sense of there's something bigger, and you feel safe within that, or you feel like you're connecting.
Art might do that for us, different clubs and organizations gives us a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. And what I've actually noticed is that often times, what we do is we try to connect with things that give us a sense of connection with the transcendent, as long as that thing that's bigger than ourselves and doesn't have any demand back on me. So I want connection with something bigger than myself, as long as there isn't any work for me to do in response to that, as long as that thing bigger than me isn't dictating what I do. And that proliferates itself in the type of spiritual quest and the language that we use as far as that goes. And so, what does it mean then to be in proper relationship with something bigger than ourselves, and the theologian John Jefferson Davis gives a universal definition of salvation that fits across all religious systems of belief, and he says think about it. Salvation is when your true identity is in proper relationship with ultimate reality. Salvation is when your true identity is in proper relationship with ultimate reality. So maybe your true identity as a carbon-based life form and ultimate reality is also that, and so you need to sustain and care for the Earth well, because that's all that you have. Maybe it's bigger than that. Maybe, and then insert your view or ideology concept of God, proper relationship, who we truly are, and when we get that balance right, we talk about that in salvific terms.
And that's why it's fascinating to me that you have all these moral psychologists these days writing about very profound, scientific things, but talking about them in religious language, because it does seem that religious language emerges as the best package of vocabulary to make sense of the overall picture of what is really going on. So from a Christian perspective, in order to properly order this connection with the thing that is bigger than us, we believe that your true identity is that you are given that value and that dignity, that you're made in the image of God, it's conferred upon you by something bigger than yourself, and that ultimate reality is personal, and that the goal of your life is to be in proper relationship with that which is ultimate. So do you have that? How would you write that out in your life? This is who I am, this is what is really true, and this is the proper connection between who I am and what is really true. If you just had to jot that out and sort of mind map that for a second, what does that look like? Is it sustainable, the vision of that, that you wrote down, that's the second question there.
And again, I don't think we just want sustainability. You can live a long time probably on pork lard and rye. You might want something a little more in your diet, just guessing. And there are things, metaphysically, in that category too that you can live a long time on a meager diet, but the invitation of Christ is the something far bigger and far deeper. Life to the full. Jesus does not shy away from brokenness in the world. He says, hey look, there is evil here. The thief comes to kill, steal and destroy, but I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. It's an astounding claim of Jesus that he bridges that gap, that he makes the perfection of that identity, ultimate reality, relationship possible. And where we get back into this idea here is that this isn't sustainable agriculture.
This isn't sustainable metaphysics. We can't conjure up and produce within ourselves the things that we need in order to fulfill that equation for happiness in our life, and it puts us in this position of the problem of perfection, basically saying, okay, if ultimate reality is personal and is perfect, here's the perfect God, here's Nathan. And often times, sort of the religions that we construct say okay, if I follow this 16 point step program and tick off all these boxes, I can work myself up to the point where God looks over at me and says hey Nathan, great beard, you're perfect, come on over. And a lot of systems work that way. We work, we work, we work, and God says come on over, you got it. And from a Christian perspective, let's be honest, that's the most ridiculous thing we've ever heard of, because I know full and well who I am, and perfection is not one of the categories of things that my wife publicly talks about or privately talks about, it's not a quality that I embody. It's one that Logan clearly left out in my introduction. And so for me to think of a perfect God being in a relationship with me, it's the problem of perfection, of how does that which is perfect come into a relationship with that which is imperfect and still maintain its definition of perfection? And if you have a perfect solution and add an impurity to it, it's no longer a perfect solution. And so from the Christian perspective, there isn't anything that I can do to seek happiness, to get things lined up right, to restore this relationship.
The only way for that which is perfect to come into a relationship with that which is imperfect is if that which is perfect does something to that which is imperfect to perfect it to make that relationship possible. And that's the message that Jesus is bringing to us, that the righteousness, the goodness, the possibility, the category of a relationship with God is a gift from God to us. And so, Jesus presents it in this way. He says, come to me, it's an invitation, come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. It's the promise of Christ. Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
That means that there isn't anybody who's down on life enough or stressed out enough that Christ isn't offering an invitation to, and he says a fascinating thing then. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. Maybe the vision of happiness that you're longing for is a vision of happiness that doesn't have work involved with it. Notice that Jesus here says I'll give you rest for your souls, not rest from your shoulders. Saying take a yoke upon you, but it's an easy one, and you need to learn from me about how to do this. Let's be harnessed up together in life, and let me bury the burden and guide you into the direction that I want you to go, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. I was visiting my grandparents in Pennsylvania once, and they had neighbors who were Amish, and the Amish man was out there training a new mule how to plow, and it was hilarious. There were five mules, four huge, very mature mules, and then one little scrawny mule who was clearly the trainee that was sandwiched in between these four massive mules. And the little dude in the middle, he was doing alright as long as everything was going in a straight line. So they were plodding along, but then when they get to the end of a turn, there's kind of a tricky move that happens where the mules on the outside kind of pivot this way, and the mules on the inside back up, and so you have the mules on the outside going this way and the mules on the inside coming around this way. Now that's cool, unless you're the mule in the middle who's trying to figure out half of my body's supposed to be going this way and half's supposed to be going back this way, right? And so they were basically just dragging this mule who was harnessed to them through the turn, and then they would get lined up and it would go again. And I can't get my picture out of my mind when Jesus was talking about the burdens of life that we bear, and take my yoke upon you, that he's offering to pick up and pull through that which we can't, and to form and to cultivate and to grow within us the ability to learn what it means to walk in a satisfying way in this world.
It's an invitation not to a state of instantaneous euphoria, but to deep satisfaction. It's a way of life, all of life. And the thing that I'm wrestling with right now as I speak this to you is that when I think of what Christ has done in my life and has called me to and allows me to see, it is way bigger than what I can pack into a 40 minute little, whatever it is that we're doing here tonight. And so I feel like I'm holding back from you something that is beautiful. It's almost like giving you an orange to eat, but not teaching you how to peel it. When you first bite into it, you're like, that's nasty. Well, you gotta take the peel off of it.
Sometimes Christianity is like that, we gotta look into it. There's a depth to it here. And so I'm offering you a surface glance into a vision. I'm taunting you to explore something deeper, perhaps it is that we're far too easily pleased, that there really is a depth of life that is available to us as humans in 2019 in Charlottesville, Virginia and wherever life takes us. Now there's a challenge here in the sense that I think when we start talking about our emotions, those of us who prefer to see ourselves as rationally minded get a little bit worried here, because we know that our emotions are finicky.
Hey, if you want scientific evidence of that, just read a couple other books by Jonathan Haidt and you'll be totally a train wreck, whether or not you believe what you think you know about how you feel about things. It'll be great. But, so there's that skepticism of our own hearts and our own proclivities and our ability to embrace things because of the emotional way that we respond, and maybe just to wrap this up here, and then Sean is going to come and we're gonna spend some time fielding the questions that you have, is to say that there is a proper order between intellectual commitment and emotion.
These things are not mutually exclusive by any stretch of imagination. And so maybe I've presented something to you and you're like hey, it would be nice if that was true, but that doesn't by any means mean that it is. So it has to make sense, so don't just change your whole life based off of what I said tonight. It probably wouldn't happen anyway. I'm just saying that there is a proper relationship here, and probably the way that it's illustrated best in my mind because it's the most amazing story of me not getting smacked when I should have, is when I proposed to my wife. And I'm gonna tell you something, this is free advice, not to use this line. But I was thinking hey, look, I'm 23 years old. What in the world do I know what it means to actually say that I love somebody? Like if you've been married 60 years, okay, you can talk about love. And so when I was asking my wife to marry me, I said hey look, I think that I love you, but, but it's not that I'm not sure of it, I do love you, but I don't think that I know the fullness of the depth of what love actually means. I think there's something bigger in life than what we know as 23 year olds. So my heart was in the right direction, it's just the words that are connected here that have a problem. But what I said was, look, I don't know what it means to fully say that I love you, but I do know enough about the content of your character to be willing to be committed to you for life, and to find out what that love really means. She actually said yes to that. Yeah! And that's been great, but you know what's great about that? Is that our relationship is based off of a commitment that is steadfast and deep and is based on more than a happening, more than an event. And if I would have said to her, you know what, the foundation of our relationship is based off of how we feel about each other right now with this sunset, when the sunset's gone, and I'm annoying, there goes our relationship.
Or when life progresses and we don't have the youth and the ideas and the adventure that we have now, it's still there, because it's about the consistency and the knowledge of a character of somebody, who they really are, and then love, the emotion, comes after the commitment. Commitment precedes emotion, and that makes the emotion safe. That makes the emotion delightful, because now we're not saying the stability of my happiness is based off of an emotion. It's based off of something else and then the emotion flows from that. And that's important, I think, when we start thinking about metaphysical claims and religious commitment, that we never want to make a religious commitment based off of an emotion, although emotions are important. But there has to be something that's actually, that undergirds that, and then the emotions flow from that.
And so when I talk about happiness and satisfaction and sustainability, it all sounds so subjective, but the subjective parts of life are the fun parts of life. And so I'm just encouraging you to think clearly through how you write out that definition of what it means to be who you really are and to be in perfect relationship with ultimate reality. You know what I found is that if you think about this, gratitude is the foundation of joy. Gratitude is the foundation of joy. It is very difficult to be a joyful person if you're not grateful for anything. And in fact, if you're having a rough time in life, I would recommend sometime just go through and look at all the stuff people have given you. Reflect on the past of what has happened in your life that's been good, and you'll find that joy develops in response to that gratefulness.
But the thing about gratefulness is that it means that you received a gift. There were nutrients imported from the outside into the system. There was information from the outside. And so in the reception of what it is that God has done for us, that then turns into a deep and a steadfast joy. And that's why you get contentment and satisfaction and joy, even within the difficulties of this world, in following the person of Jesus Christ. He shows us what it means to be truly human and to live a life of joy in this world that celebrates what has happened in the past, gives us peace in the present, and grins with hope about the future. And so may I recommend him to you tonight, the one who calls us to come to himself.