Thursday, August 26, 2010

Losing Happiness Points

In a dusty corner of a cupboard somewhere, I have a board game called “Careers”.  There is a square on the board called the “Auto Show”.  You can chose to spend up to 1 year’s salary to buy a car and gain 1 “happiness point” for every $1,000 spent, or lose 1 “happiness point” for “just looking”.  Even though the game hasn’t been played for a few years (I’m waiting for the children to be old enough to play it) the phrase “losing happiness points” has entered into our family vocabulary.

The other week I lost quite a few happiness points.  I spotted a house for sale not very far from my children’s school.  Our circumstances being what they are, buying a house is just not an option for the foreseeable future, but I did spend a week or so daydreaming about this one.  It was only an average home, but it was in a quiet street, very close to school, four bedrooms, reasonably sized fenced back yard for the children to play in.  The kitchen was modern, and it seemed to have a nice large living area.

On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with daydreaming.  But I found myself comparing my current, small, drafty rental house with the daydream and feeling dissatisfied.  I also found myself comparing with the lifestyles of my friends, who have different circumstances, and feeling almost ashamed of where I live. Our one small lounge feels even smaller than it did before I started daydreaming. Sadly, my lotto ticket didn’t win, neither did Mum’s.

The tenth Commandment in the Old Testament is “you shall not covet”.  I had always assumed that the reason we’re commanded not to covet, is it creates too much temptation to break some of the other commandments, for example adultery, theft, or murder etc, out of jealousy.  But I’ve come to realize this week that there’s more to it than that.  Coveting takes our attention off God, and distracts us with possessions and things.  Coveting is never satisfied, someone always has something better.

Our whole culture, and even our economy, is built around encouraging us to covet, especially the latest consumer gadget.  We are encouraged to be the first of our friends to have the latest iPad (none of my friends yet that I know about) or iPhone4 (you know who you are) and so on.  If we’re not the first, then the pressure is on to keep up with the Joneses. The little 2G phone that was perfectly adequate when I bought it 18 months ago, and actually still is perfectly adequate for making calls and sending text messages, just doesn’t seem to compare any more.

I've been tying to figure out how to “ground” my value of my spiritual relationship with God, into the practical realities of day to day living.

I've been finding the book “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster to be quite helpful (thanks for the loan, Craig).  In his chapter about the spiritual discipline of “Simplicity”, he urges finding a balance between the “Mammon” spirit of our current society and “un-Christian legalistic asceticism.”  Foster points out that “Both can lead to idolatry.  Both are spiritually lethal.”

After reading that chapter, I noted three attitudes that I thought were important in finding that balance.  
  1. An attitude of Thankfulness
  2. An attitude of Contentment
  3. An attitude of Generosity
I can make a choice, that when I look at my small, drafty house, to be thankful that we can afford the rent, to be thankful that the landlord has recently laid carpet, with a nice thick underlay.  (I’ll keep praying for insulation).  I can choose to be thankful that even when my husband is unemployed, I can still work and earn enough to keep our family afloat (mostly).  I can choose to be thankful that I and my family are all healthy and happy.

I can make a choice to be content in my current circumstances.  I can choose to trust that the recession won’t last forever, and eventually there will be employment available again.  I can choose to not compare with either friend’s houses, or even my daydreams, but to accept the differences in our circumstances.   I can choose to buy only what I actually need, not to keep up with the consumerism of our culture.  If it still works, I don’t really need to upgrade.

I can make a choice to be generous.  I think it was one of Steve’s sermons that I picked up the phrase “we are blessed to be a blessing”.  (I don’t think there’s a verse that specifically says that in the Bible, but I would be happy to be corrected).  When I’ve been “blessed” with extra funds or given extra goods, I can choose to find ways of sharing those with other who have even more needs.

What about you? Where do you lose “happiness points”?  How do you find the balance in your life?


  1. There's a difference between "coveting" something and "dreaming" about it. A dream is just an undefined goal, which you can plan for and work towards. Covetousness will suck you dry and distract you from what really matters.

  2. Very good point. The challenge is telling them apart.

    When I started *comparing* the daydream with reality, and becoming discontent with my current circumstances that's when it crossed that line.

    There's a myth that belongings and possessions will bring contentment - a better house, car or gadget to make one happy.

    I'm trying to learn "the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." (Philippians 4:12).