Thursday, September 02, 2010

Exploring the Happy Society

Five years ago today I began The Gruntled Center: Faith and Family for Centrists.

Today, to celebrate that anniversary and to mark the broader path I want to chart, I am changing the subtitle of the blog. Hereafter I will post to The Gruntled Center: Exploring the Happy Society.

I am developing a new course, "The Happy Society," which will explore the philosophical and empirical roots of happiness in the institutions of society, and in society as a whole. I think the core dynamic of what makes for happiness and unhappiness in social life as a whole is trust versus fear.

As part of this class, as well as for my continuing teaching on family life, I envision a book on Happy Families. This book would explore the seeming paradox that having children usually diminishes a couple's happiness in their marriage, but at the same time gives them the greatest sense of meaningful accomplishment.

I think the relationship between happiness and meaningfulness is the deepest and hardest puzzle that we will explore in studying the happy society.

I welcome your participation in the adventure.


Nate Crimmins said...


Brendan said...

Congratulations on the anniversary! I look forward to continued reading in any avenue.

Pastor Dennis said...

Meaningfulness as a function of happiness: it's in the Bible, the Gospels, Paul. Well the philosophers and other have some things to say, as well.

Whit said...

I’d like to read more of your thesis here. But I wonder whether the dynamic is less one of trust vs. fear as it is safety vs. fear. Man is, and always will remain, subject to sin, and therefor inherently untrustworthy - until He comes again. Trust must therefor be built, and verified, over time and within a context of a stable society and the rule of law, ordered liberty if you will. But the anecdote to fear is control over one’s own situation. And, to complicate the dynamic further, fear often stimulates constructive action to try to gain that control. Fear of cancer gets one to the doctor. Fear of losing one’s job stimulates productive work. Fear of an adversary causes a nation to build its defenses.

Whit said...

I'm sorry but I seem to have to post comments in parts.

My other thought is regarding happy families. It is true that research has demonstrated that having children generally decreases satisfaction in marriage, but may increase overall happiness or meaningfulness. (I summarize and simplify the results here.) While this type of research has only been done in the recent past, I think the anecdotal evidence from history indicates that the success of marriage was often measured by the number and sex of the offspring, and not only for Kings and Lords. And I wonder if the current research distinguished between the responses of Evangelical Christians vs. others in our society. That might be an interesting avenue for research.

My point here is that the contradiction one sees in current society may be an aberration and a consequence of the breaking, among much of our culture, of the traditional unity among love, marriage, sex, children and family. That is, if the function of love, sex and marriage is considered, as they have been for most of human history, the birth and socialization of children and the preservation of culture for the next generation, you will not get the contradiction you find in today’s society. It is yet to be seen whether the current secular views, which I think are manifested in high divorce rates, acceptance of premarital sex, plummeting birth rates, normalization of homosexual relationships and the like, are a temporary or permanent change. And if permanent, are they fatal to the continuation of our culture?

Whit said...

I would also note that the evil manifestations I list in the preceding paragraph are all selfish ones. That is, the interests of those involved in these behaviors are placed ahead of the interests of the next generation. Meaningfulness is almost the opposite of self-gratification, and usually is associated with doing something for someone else. When we become selfish, do we lose meaningfulness, and perhaps happiness? When marriage is seen as a partnership the purpose of which is to raise children in the nurture and admonition of God, children will only add to satisfaction and meanfulness.

I often think we mistranslate the Fifth Commandment which is perhaps more correctly translated, “Honor the fathers and mothers among you . . . so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the Land the Lord your God is giving you.” That is, the Commandment is less about each person honoring the person’s own parents, though that is part of it, than it is about society honoring those who are co-creating and bringing up the next generation without whom the Land will belong to someone else.

Sister Edith said...

Congratulations on the anniversary - and I look forward to reading more on this new path.