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The Adventure of Happiness

The Adventure of Happiness

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The Adventure of Happiness

329 pagine
4 ore
Nov 2, 2016


Happiness is not something you achieve once and for all. Happiness is a muscle, a skill, a way of being that can and must be exercised. If you neglect your happiness, unhappiness will re-absorb you. You'll have fatty tissue in the underarms of your joy.

We are happy because of what we do and because of who we are becoming. Happiness is available to us, increasingly, as we shift from lives of passivity to activity; from thinking to doing; and from defending to iterating (what we do). We are happy not because we don't have to change, but because we can renew our minds, govern our mouths, guard our hearts, and use our legs (who we are becoming). And in all this, we are not restrained by history, association, birth, personality, or circumstance.

The material in this book has been distilled from Dr. David McDonald's professional work as a clergyman, professor, and executive coach over the past 20 years, a veritable library of theological and psychological books, and his own personal application and development of the material.

This is the story of how one person learned to be happy.

Nov 2, 2016

Informazioni sull'autore

Dr. David McDonald is a pastor, teacher, and lecturer in colleges and seminaries all over the world. His work with Westwinds Community Church has been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Time magazine. David was recently appointed to the first-ever post-doctoral fellowship at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, and continues to integrate spiritual truth with sharp social analysis in his private work as a speculative theologian. David lives with his life, Carmel, and their two children in Jackson, Michigan.

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The Adventure of Happiness - Dr. David McDonald


Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote you: she shall bring you to honor, when you embrace her. She shall give your head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver.

- Proverbs 4.7-9, KJV

I used to be the happiest person in the world.

In college I began coaching sports camps that were a mix of sport-specific instruction and Christian spirituality. Each day, one of the coaches would give their testimony, telling the students how they became a Christian and why the students should follow suit. My opening statement was always, I'm the happiest person in the world. I would describe my faith as the ultimate source of my happiness, promising that the students could compete for the title if they, too, would begin to follow God.

But one day, I made the statement and it immediately rang false. That was the last time I offered to give my testimony, and I wasn't sure what had happened. My external circumstances were largely the same, and I hadn't experienced any major setbacks or tragedies.

But I was no longer happy.

For many years after, I resigned myself to grasping the few moments of happiness as they came. I wasn't unhappy, but happiness was the bright interruption of my day or, too often, my week. Happiness was no longer the defining characteristic of my life. It's not accurate to paint myself as a miserable wretch, but I consider a happy person to be someone who is mainly happy most of the time, with grouchiness or fatigue or depression as temporary setbacks rather than competing characteristics.

This book tells the story of how I learned to be happy again. And again. It's the chronicle of the many techniques, activities, and thought processes I've been cultivating over the last twenty years in an effort to experience again what I took for granted in college.

Happiness is not something you achieve once and for all. Happiness is a muscle, a skill, a way of being that can and must be exercised. If you neglect your happiness, unhappiness will re-absorb you. You'll have fatty tissue in the underarms of your joy.

We are happy because of what we do and because of who we are becoming. By what we do I mean that happiness is available to us, increasingly, as we cultivate healthy practices with our screens, renew our passions at work, stop being afraid of what we eat, and get sufficient sex and rest. By who we are becoming I mean we are happy not because we don't have to change, but because we can renew our minds, govern our mouths, guard our hearts, and use our legs. And in all this, we are not restrained by history, association, birth, personality, or circumstance.

Happiness is not something that happens…it does not depend on outside events, but rather on how we interpret them. Happiness in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person.

- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow, 2.

Happiness is not the natural state of human beings. Contrary to popular belief, if you're not happy, that doesn't mean you're defective. In fact, the normal thinking processes of the human mind tend to create misery. None of us will ever totally get rid of negative thoughts and feelings. You can't even control your thoughts and feelings. But you can control which thoughts and feelings to empower, to act upon, and to govern your life. The goal is to live in such a way that every moment both sustains and contributes to your overall happiness.

We can't experience the abundant life God intends for his Creation simply through material wealth, therapeutic counsel, and medication. Being comfortable is not the same as being happy. Being medicated is not the same as being well. Happiness may well include financial stability, therapy and meds, but it is certainly not exhausted—or guaranteed—by these things. Happiness includes loving and serving others, meaningful friendships, joy at work, a healthy and active lifestyle, savoring and enjoying everyday pleasures and ordinary tasks. Happiness involves a more enriching life of shadowing God and healing the world.

This book is divided into two halves: part one: who you are, and part two: where you live. Each of the chapters within these sections focuses around an image that will serve as a governing metaphor for the various arenas of happiness.

The material in The Adventure of Happiness has been distilled from my professional work as a clergyman, professor, and executive coach over the past 20 years, the veritable library of theological and psychological books I’ve studied, and my own personal application and development of the material.

At the end of each chapter, there will also be a HACK—a simple trick or tool you can apply immediately to begin working toward greater happiness. Don’t worry about putting them all into practice—that would be overwhelming. Just pick one or two and try them for a few weeks. Most of these HACKs will seem overly simplistic, but I promise you that if you put them into practice you will notice a positive change very soon.

Many times in this book I will make strong recommendations. Commands, even. You might read these and feel like I'm being intolerant. Or mean. Or that some extraneous circumstances might mean you shouldn't do what I'm suggesting and you feel trapped. Relax. Chill. Feel free to ignore everything I'm telling you. I'm not the ultimate authority. This is just me, talking. I'm trying to share all that I've learned about how to be happy, and a lot of what I've learned feels pretty intense, and will undoubtedly be communicated with some passion, because it's stuff I learned while I was unhappy. Now that I'm trying to share all of that, it's probably going to feel like I'm grabbing you by the shoulders and shaking you, yelling in your face like the Drill Sergeant of Gladness. My apologies. Just take what you like and ignore the rest. After all, it would be woefully ironic if my book on happiness made you miserable.

This book is for normal people. Normal people have jobs and take care of their responsibilities. Normal people need to do things like budget, shop for groceries, schedule around their kids' activities, finish school, work. This is not a book for monks or nuns.

I'm not pretending I'm the perfect example of how to live life to the fullest. But I maintain that my trajectory has been from unhappy to happier and the trajectory continues. So much of The Adventure of Happiness is about dealing with life's garbage. Getting happy involves removing the trash. Staying happy means avoiding some garbage and catching other garbage early enough that the clean-up is faster and easier than before. But you won't ever be trash-free. And sometimes trash stinks and sticks so your happiness will momentarily be compromised. This book will help. And hopefully it'll allow your trajectory toward eternal and enduring happiness to be both steeper and quicker than mine. This isn't about stapling a smile to your face and pretending you’re happy when, in fact, you're miserable. You won't ever be encouraged to falsify joy. Neither is this about all the reasons you're unhappy. Too many books spend too much time diagnosing why people are unhappy when the actual practices that contribute to our happiness are largely the same. The obstacles differ; the path remains.

So grab your bullwhip and fedora, your lightsaber and astromech, your batarangs and ankle-boots, and get a move on.


A word about the Bible

You'll notice I reference the Bible many times during this book. That's natural given my own beliefs, upbringing, and vocation as a Christian minister. While I do believe the foundations of abundant life are found in the Bible, I have referred more to modern philosophy, positive psychology, and neuro-science to support my strong belief that everyone can be exceedingly, enduringly happy.

This, I believe, is what Jesus meant when he spoke about abundant life in John 10.10, saying, I have come that you might have life, and life to the full. In contrast to the common error of today’s Christian assumptions, the purpose of following Jesus is not to go to heaven when you die, but to live abundantly on earth as in heaven. We were made by God to live like God and enjoy God’s Creation. For the term abundant life to have any meaning at all, it must include—at the very least—happiness. But this happiness cannot be momentary or circumstantial. True happiness endures despite our circumstances, which has led many theologians to speak about human flourishing and shalom. Much of the conversation here centers on autotelic activity (auto, self; telos, goal), meaning doing self-motivated, self-rewarding stuff in order to become the people God originally designed.

One of the most common misconceptions within contemporary Christianity is the notion that happiness is unspiritual. Some believe that happiness is transitory and, therefore, ungodly; that happiness represents an unhealthy dependence upon what is happening and therefore ignores the reality that Christ has called us to pick up our crosses and follow him. In my mind, people must ignore an incredible amount of positive scriptural affirmations in order to piece this theology of misery together, among them:

I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High. (Psalm 9.2, NIV)

You will fill me with joy when I am with you. You will make me happy forever at your right hand. (Psalm 16.11, NIRV)

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16.11, NIV)

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10.10b, NIV)

Yahweh your God is among you, a warrior who saves. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will bring you quietness with His love. He will delight in you with shouts of joy. (Zephaniah 3.17, HCSB)

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15.11, NIV)

Others believe that happiness is counterfeit joy; meaning that joy is genuine Christian virtue and happiness is the worldly, largely external, and impermanent consolation prize. Here again, this is terrible theology, as the words for happiness and joy in all biblical languages are synonyms, not opposites.

Both errors are dangerous, but I don’t want to get side-tracked. Randy Alcorn’s exhaustive book, Happiness, addresses these in detail and I recommend it for anyone who requires a biblical justification to be happy. For my part, I am firmly convinced that God designed us for passion, adventure, romance, and creativity; that God wants us to be happy; and that happiness is available to all of God’s people right now on earth as it is in heaven.

I've limited the majority of the scriptures employed to the books of Solomonic Wisdom—Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. Traditionally, these books are attributed to King Solomon of Israel (reign c.970-931BCE), the wisest man to have ever lived. He spent much of his life pursuing happiness and I thought he would make an interesting conversation partner. I read each of his books with a family member: Proverbs with my daughter Anna, who characterized the personifications of Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly as figures from Mr. Men and Little Miss; Ecclesiastes with my teenage son, Jacob, who greatly enjoyed the cynicism and boredom so closely mirroring his own; and Song of Solomon with my wife, Carmel, who was always suspicious that I wanted to role play as we read.

Here is a brief overview of each work of Solomonic wisdom.


A manual for living, for learning what’s right and just and fair

- Proverbs 1.4 MSG

What is a proverb? Wisdom captured in a sentence.

Proverbs is the biblical book of wisdom, and the biblical definition of wisdom is living well. That entails not only knowing what's right, but also performing what's right. It's right thought and right action. And we need that reminder. Many in our world claim to know what's right, but only a select few seem capable of constraining themselves to do it.

So. Read Proverbs. Because wisdom and self-control must be learned like other complex forms of experience, like mature political judgment, for example.


How wonderful to be wise, to analyze and interpret things.

Wisdom lights up a person’s face, softening its harshness.

- Ecclesiastes 8.1, NLT

Ecclesiastes is, perhaps, the first book ever written on happiness. It's one man's pursuit across all disciplines, with unlimited resources, for the length and breadth of his life. It plays with the abandon of Richard Branson and the lawlessness of a Saudi prince; it explores the philosophy of Nietzsche, Sartre, and Kierkegaard in the hedonism of Hugh Hefner. It's a no-holds-barred, up-yours, pursuit of meaning.

The writer, traditionally thought to be Solomon, begins by exploring all of the expected avenues of supposed happiness: wealth, power, ambition, sex. But none of these satisfy. In the end, every human being will die and that makes all our dreams and ambitions feel empty. But, as Rabbi Harold Kushner once pointed out, the author of Ecclesiastes claims that despite the evidence supporting life has no meaning, there is something inside me which will not permit me to accept that conclusion.

If logic tells us that life is a meaningless accident, says Ecclesiastes at the end of his journey, don't give up on life. Give up on logic. Listen to that voice inside you which prompted you to ask the question in the first place. If logic tells you that in the long run, nothing makes a difference because we all die and disappear, then don't live in the long run. Instead of brooding over the fact that nothing lasts, accept that as one of the truths of life, and learn to find meaning and purpose in the transitory, in the joys that fade. Learn to savor the moment, even if it does not last forever. In fact, learn to savor it because it is only a moment and will not last. Moments of our lives can be eternal without being everlasting.

- Harold Kushner, When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough, 141.

The Song of Solomon

Kiss me and kiss me again, for your love is sweeter than wine.

-Song of Solomon 1.2, NLT

Does it surprise you that God takes pleasure in our lovemaking? It shouldn't. If anyone understands the capacity for human pleasure it must certainly be the architect of human anatomy. God made our bodies a circus—a carnival of oohs and aahs, where the best riders are awarded the most spectacular prizes.

It surprises some people that the Bible contains erotic poetry. After all, the aim is not to describe, but to inspire. To elicit. The poet plays with words the way a good lover plays with their spouse. Nothing is direct. Nothing is quick. There are teases. Hints. Promises of things to come.

But the Song of Solomon—at the very least—serves to balance out the foibles of Kings and the violence of Judges. It's a good reminder of God's perpetual presence and the opportunity for his pleasure.

God is present when we are in love and God is present when we make love. It is God who teaches us about love in its fullest and God who helps us recover when our love has been spurned. God does not shy away from the most intimate or embarrassing moments of human life. And it is the awareness of God’s presence that allows us to avoid the two most common errors about sexuality: the belief that every sexual desire is good; and the belief that every sexual desire is evil.

God wants to flourish our understanding of sex. We've got to learn more about its boundaries and pleasures, taboos and joys.



Because I'm not a scientific researcher, I've leaned heavily on a few key texts. At the end of each major section you'll see that I suggest the three best books on each topic. You'll also notice a few other titles that pop up several times in every section. These are my favorite books on happiness overall and, if you're interested in continuing your Adventure of Happiness, then I suggest you read them. They have helped me tremendously, and I trust they will do the same for you.

* Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman. The founding father of Positive Psychology has written many fine books on the subject, but in my opinion this is his best. It is easy to read and full of useful information about the sources and conditions necessary for a happy life and healthy mind.

* The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. The big idea in this book is that being happy will improve your life professionally, relationally, and economically. Achor's charming style supplies buckets of data without overwhelming, and you'll likely feel surprised you finished quickly.

* When All You've Ever Wanted Isn't Enough by Rabbi Harold Kushner. Kushner is a sage whose perspective helped me a great deal. I've read all his books with a low-grade pastoral envy, but this was the first I came across, and I read it in one sitting.

* Happiness by Randy Alcorn. For the earnest Bible student—this is an exhaustive treatment of happiness in Christian spirituality. After reading it, you will come to the inescapable conclusion that happiness is at the center of God’s plan to restore humanity.

* Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle. This book has nothing to do with happiness…and yet, that’s all it contains. Boyle’s work with the gang members in Los Angeles is inspiring, and his big heart is only matched by his impish personality. He makes others happy, and he is happier because of it. So are we.



Ever feel like you're going crazy? Nuts? Like you've got entire ecosystems of thought competing against each other?

I do.

Consider that your mind is like a carriage blazing through the desert. The carriage is pulled by eight lusty stallions, eager to be let loose so they can rut and run as they please. But those stallions have been harnessed and reigned in, and they are now controlled by the driver. His job is stressful, but he's prepared. Though he knows he may lose control if his attention drifts, he's able to manage his remarkable team. But the driver isn't alone. Inside the carriage, leaning out the window and bellowing orders, is the driver's father. He used to drive and considers himself an expert, so he shouts at his son a never-ending tirade of instructions and improvements.

This is how your mind works. The horses chafe against the reigns while the driver struggles to maintain control, all while the father bellows obscenities.

Is it any wonder we sometimes feel like our thoughts are making us insane?

I've taken to nicknaming the differing parts of my mind as the Jerk (the father), the Jock (the horses), and the Nerd (the driver). The Jerk is always critical, focusing intensely on what I'm doing wrong (or failing to do altogether). The Jock is that part of my mind that is desperate for adventure and pleasure. The Nerd is the rational one, who keeps the Jock and the Jerk in line and makes sure my actions line up with my values.

But it's hard to guarantee the Nerd will outmuscle the Jock and silence the Jerk.


We have resilient impulses toward sex and desire but we keep those in check because we're strong, rational people. The problem is, we have these million little messages that persistently tell us we're doing it wrong and we're likely to crash at any moment. These messages might be advertising or religion, new media or family, but they're all screaming and the distraction makes it that much harder to run the horses.

We've got to learn that we are not what we think. Our thoughts have to be managed. They have to be trained. They have to be controlled. Too many people assume that what's in our minds is just who we are, and that the chief task of adulthood is to finally embrace our identity. Nonsense! We need to redeem who we are; and, far more important than who we are, is whose we are. You and I belong to God, and he has never relinquished either his claim

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