I have been reading Stumbling on Happiness (both the book, and the blog). It was one more recommendation from the Freakonomics guys, and a good one, (I like Freakonomics, both the blog and the book). They steered me to the Shangri-la Diet (which led me to lose seventy pounds) and a number of good thoughts.
But Stumbling on Happiness hits a number of themes, from a different angle, that are a part of grief and recovery, life, experience and joy. I've been meaning to write about some of them, from before I started reading the book, when Nine Moons had this post: Does God Give Us Trials, If So Why?
This will be a long post, and I still do not have a way to start that isn't in the middle.
I've been a game designer. Much to my surprise, I still have people who like my work, though I haven't done anything new for a decade. I always enjoyed designing games, and watching them be played, more than playing them myself, and after I was contacted out of the blue (by a sort of "where are they now" group), I took a look at modern games.
One thing that has really gotten my attention is that there is a huge difference between the perspective of the player and the perspective of the character that is played in a game. A player will put a character through all sorts of things to gain experience or to have an adventure, things that they probably would not want to put themselves through. Or would they? How much, in this life, are we both a player and a character?
Even more, the things I would enjoy in play, you might not. Things other people enjoy, I was perplexed by. Some people just do not have any interest in playing games of any sort (not role-playing games, not chess, not checkers or Settlers of Catan) and just walk away.
Daniel Gilbert makes the point that people define their lives in terms of seeking to be happy, and that most people, looking back, are generally happy with their lives. I've gone through a good deal of tragedy, yet I find myself drifting into acceptance and happiness, over all, with my life. I find myself wondering, if I were playing a character, and learning from the experience, what character would I prefer to play? If life is merely a few spare hours in an eternal afternoon, where we have the chance to learn and experience on the way through the process, what would I choose to learn, to understand, to become in my life.
I think that is a question that we all need to ask.
Especially, since if we are spirits passing through a material world, with this life and reality like a soap film bubble in the eternities, most of the things we consider pain, or hardship or rewards are trifles. What matters are the things that a game player might seek: perspectives, knowledge, experience, wisdom.
In that framework, and knowing that it is our weaknesses that bind us together, not our strengths, if we treat God like a gamemaster or an enabler of the story we wish to tell, the experience we are seeking, God isn't so much giving us burdens or barriers as he is giving us the life we seek and making what we (as players) desire for ourselves (as characters).
Surely the emotions we feel are strong and real, much like the thrills on the best of amusement park rides or the empathy and pathos we experience in the best of theater or cinema, but they are not -- at the end of the day -- ones to regret.
Pain, experience, joy, life; what is God giving us?! -- only the things we need and want and desire and for which, in the end when we have been made complete (telos; mature; holy; perfect; merciful, as Christ commands), we will be grateful.