On Being Happy

In one of the final chapters of his book ‘Sapiens‘, Yuval Noah Harari raises the issue of whether all the ‘progress’ the human race has made in the last few thousand years has actually increased the happiness of individual humans to any great degree (not to mention the happiness of the other sentient species on Earth).

I won’t give the game away by telling you his answer, but I would like to share a short reflection on one section of this chapter. In this section, Harari points out that happiness has a lot to do with body chemistry and temperament. Some of us just seem wired to be more cheerful than others. For example, one person might have a ‘happiness range’ (on a scale of 1-10) of 3-7, averaging out at a five. Another might have a range of 6-10, averaging out at an eight. There isn’t a great deal they can do about that, although of course upbringing and choices do have some impact on where we land up in the range.

I found this liberating.

I am well aware that I have been handed a somewhat melancholic temperament. It’s easy for me to see the dark side of any issue. I panic easily, I worry a lot, and I tend to make negative observations about situations and people.

Looking at my families of origin, I can understand this. It’s in our genes. It’s not something I need to feel guilty about.

However, I do have a choice about where in my ‘range’ (let’s call it a 3 – 7) I average out. And there are things I can do, choices I can make, habits I can form, that will increase my happiness. Gretchen Rubin wrote an excellent book on this subject called ‘The Happiness Project‘. No, I can’t flip a switch to change my emotions. But there are behaviours I can engage in which have a cheering effect on my disposition. I’m talking about things like doing acts of kindness to others, sticking with my diet and exercise disciplines and so on. I know that when I’m intentional about these things, I’m a happier guy.

And I’m also more pleasant to be around. Which is why making decisions that increase my happiness is not a selfish pursuit. Generally speaking, happier people lift up the people around them, while gloomy people drag others down. I want to lift others up.

I can’t do anything about my temperament, but I can do something about my actions. I’m going to try to remember to do that.

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‘We British: the Poetry of a People’

29958072This book isn’t quite a history of British (i.e. English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish) poetry from Caedmon to the present day; it’s more a sort of annotated anthology, with poems and excerpts from poems giving a representative sample of each period. As such, it’s an excellent introduction for the person who enjoys poetry but isn’t well-informed about the history of the craft in the British Isles.

For me there were lots of old favourites here, but also many with whom I was unfamiliar (old and new). Like all poetry fans reading the book, I was ticked off by the omission of some of my favourites (John Masefield, R.S. Thomas), but a book of 640 pages attempting to introduce the reader to 1,350 years of British poetry is bound to offend in that way. Overall I thought the book was brilliant. And I’d give this one word of reading advice: read it aloud, and with a spouse or partner or friend if you can. Marci and I read it in coffee shops and we thoroughly enjoyed this treat for the ears as well as the eyes. Five stars, and well-deserved.

Andrew Marr: We British: the Poetry of a People (Fourth Estate, 2016).

You don’t need a Kindle or a Kobo to be able to read Kindle or Kobo e-books

kindleappLittle known fact: you don’t actually need to actually own a Kindle or Kobo to be able to read e-books for Kindle or Kobo.

You can download a Kindle or Kobo app for your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Then you can go to the Kindle, Kobo or Indigo stores, buy e-books, and read them on your device.

For Amazon.ca, go to the Kindle store section of the website and then click on the linkunnamed ‘Free Reading Apps’. It will take you to this page, where you can download the app for your device (computer, iPad or other tablet, iPhone or other smartphone). On other Amazon sites, search for the appropriate tab. (You can also download the app directly from the Apple App store; I’m assuming you can do the same thing from the equivalent stores for apps for other platforms).

For Kobo, go to Kobo.com, and at the very top of the page you’ll see a link for ‘Apps and E-Readers’. Follow that link to download the appropriate app for your device. For Apple, it will direct you to a link in the iTunes store for iPhone and iPad, or on the Kobo site itself for desktop or laptop computers. There are similar links for other platforms.

meadowvalecover-smallOnce you’ve done that, your next step is to purchase Meadowvale for Kindle on Amazon.ca or your own local Amazon site, or at Indigo or the Kobo store for Kobo! What could be better?!

Of course, there’s a lot to be said for owning a dedicated e-reader like a Kindle or Kobo. You’re not so distracted by the temptation to check your email or browse the web. And you don’t have to deal with backlit screens either, so they won’t keep you awake at night.

But if you already have a device and don’t want to fork out the extra cash for a dedicated e-reader, you don’t need to miss out on reading books that are only available as e-books – books like Meadowvale, that is!

 

Would you like to help me reach more people with my e-book?

Many thanks to the 24 people (so far) who have bought copies of ‘Meadowvale: a Novel‘ on Kindle or Kobo!

If you wouldn’t mind, here are three things you can do to help me reach another twenty four people!

1. When you have finished the e-book, go to the site you bought it from (Amazon, Indigo, Kobo etc.) and rate it out of five stars. Be honest – I don’t mind!

2. If you would take the time to write a short review, this would REALLY help. When it comes to books appearing in the algorithms, the number of reviews is really important. And if you wouldn’t mind copying your review to the other sites (Amazon, Kobo, Indigo, and – if you’re a member – Goodreads – that would also really be helpful.

3. Share the link to my e-book on your own Facebook page and/or blog, with a few words about what you thought of it.

Thanks very much! I really appreciate your help!

Just a reminder of where you can get the e-book:

Amazon.ca (if you’re not in Canada, search for it in your own Amazon stores – it’s in all of them).

Indigo.ca

Kobo.com

 

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‘Meadowvale’ on Kindle

I’m pleased to announce that my novel ‘Meadowvale’, which has been featured in various versions on this blog over the past few years, is now available to purchase on Kindle.

I have been working on and off on this book for several years, so this is of course a dream come true for me.

The link to the book in the Canadian Amazon store is here.

Here it is at Amazon.com.

Here it is at Amazon.co.uk.

Please note that you can still read the first six chapters of Meadowvale for free on this blog. If you want to read more, you know what to do!

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Books I Read (or Re-Read) in 2016

In the back of my journal, I keep a little list of the books I read. I don’t do this as a kind of score-keeping exercise; more as an aid to reflection. Here’s the list for 2016, in the order in which they were read:

Ursula K. LeGuin: The Farthest Shore
The Rule of St. Benedict
Daren Wride: DNA of a Christ-Follower
Dante: Divine Comedy Vol. 1: Inferno
C.S. Lewis: The Weight of Glory
Dante: Divine Comedy Volume 2: Purgatorio
Elsie H.R. Rempel: Please Pass the Faith
Richard Giles: Here I Am: Reflections on the Ordained Life
Dante: Divine Comedy Volume 3: Paradiso
Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant and David Wright: Write, Publish, Repeat
John Clare: The Shepherd’s Calendar
Leah Kostamo: Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community
Dante: La Vita Nuova
Ursula K. LeGuin: Tehanu
Richard Foster: Celebration of Discipline
Ursula K. LeGuin: Tales from Earthsea
Ursula K. LeGuin: The Other Wind
John Goldingay: Joshua, Judges, and Ruth for Everyone
The Collected Poems of Oscar Wilde
Paul Torday: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Alan Jacobs: The Narnian
Dave Ferguson and John Ferguson: Finding Your Way Back to God
Mark D. Baker and Joel B. Green: Recovering the Scandal of the Cross:Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts
Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Denny J. Weaver: Becoming Anabaptist
Tony Hillerman: Skinwalkers
Stuart Murray: The Naked Anabaptist
Tony Hillerman: The Blessing Way
Bill Bryson: Shakespeare: The World as Stage
A.N. Wilson: The Elizabethans
Harold Percy: Your Church Can Thrive
John Grisham: Gray Mountain
Wendell Berry: The Way of Ignorance
Brian Zahnd: Water Into Wine: Some of My Story
Simon Winchester: The Map that Changed the World
Joel B. Green: Conversion in Luke/Acts
Jonathan Merritt: Jesus is Better Than You Imagined
Hilary Mantel: Bring Up the Bodies
Andy Weir: The Martian
John Goldingay: Jeremiah for Everyone
Alain de Botton: The Course of Love
W.O. Mitchell: Who Has Seen the Wind?
Walter Brueggemann: The Prophetic Imagination
C.C. Humphreys: Plague
Joel B. Green: Body, Soul, and Human Life
Robert E. Coleman: The Master Plan of Evangelism
Peter Dale: A Poetry of Place
John H. Walton: The Lost World of Genesis One
N.T. Wright: John for Everyone: Part 1
Karl Vaters: The Grasshopper Myth
Patrick O’Brien: Master and Commander
William Cowper: Selected Poetry and Prose
Ann Cleeves: Raven Black
Tobias Haller: Reasonable and Holy
Anthony Doerr: All the Light We Cannot See
Brother Andrew: God’s Smuggler
N.T. Wright: John for Everyone: Part 2
Ann Cleeves: White Nights
Timothy Keller: Making Sense of God
J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Wendell Berry: A Small Porch
W.O. Mitchell: Jake and the Kid
Thomas Hardy: The Return of the Native
J.D. Vance: Hillbilly Elegy
Kent Haruf: Benediction
David Augsburger: Dissident Discipleship
W.O. Mitchell: The Kite
Thomas Hardy: Tess of the D’Urbervilles
C.S. Lewis: The Magician’s Nephew
Francis Spufford: Unapologetic
Holy Bible: New International Version (2011)

A few reflections in no particular order:

Most enjoyable read of the year? Definitely, hands down, with lots of space between it and the next-most-enjoyable, Dante’s Divine Comedy. In fact, I loved it so much I read it twice. My first time through I was using Mark Musa’s three volume, profusely annotated edition; I read each canto through once by itself, then re-read it, scrupulously reading every single footnote as well. The notes were enormously helpful; Dante is surprisingly earthed in the contemporary political/cultural/religious scene of his day, and he assumes a vast amount of knowledge of names and events, which Musa helpfully tracks down. But when I was done I re-read the whole thing without any footnotes in Musa’s one-volume edition (‘The Portable Dante’), which also includes Dante’s Vita Nuova – which I also enjoyed.

I loved Dante’s imagery (even though his cosmology is of course completely outmoded). Two theological points especially struck me. First, in the Inferno almost all of the punishments are in fact logical and natural consequences of the sins being punished. I think Dante’s point (or part of it) may be that sin is its own punishment. Second, Dante believed that sin is essentially loving the wrong things (I should explain that his concept of love is far closer to Eros than to the New Testament idea of Agape), and that our love-choices need to be educated by the light of reason and revelation.

His final canto in the Paradiso? I defy any Christian to read it without being overwhelmed by the beauty of what he is describing.

Honourable mention also of Andy Weir’s The Martian. I watched the movie on Netflix, really liked it, so bought the book and found it to be even better than the movie. I hope he writes some more good science fiction for us.

Least enjoyable read of the year? Definitely William Cowper’s Selected Poetry and Prose. I only have one word to describe these pieces: tedious.

Important discoveries:

The writings of Joel Green, especially his work in Body, Soul and Human Life which challenged a lot of my concepts of what a soul is (it turns out that it’s all in the brain and is intrinsically physical).

W.O. Mitchell. Oh my – why had I never read any of his stuff before? His descriptions of small town prairie life in the mid-twentieth century rang a lot of bells with my experience of Arborfield in the early 1980s (some of Mitchell’s heroes, had they been non-fictional characters, would have been the same age as our Arborfield old-timers when Marci and I first arrived there). Wonderful characters, superbly authentic dialogue, great storytelling – hugely enjoyable reads. I know I’ll read everything by him I can get my hands on.

J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy was as illuminating and disturbing as I had been led to believe it would be. Superb book; I highly recommend it.

Karl Vaters’ The Grasshopper Myth is an excellent book about small church ministry (Vaters defines ‘small church’ as less than 200 people). I don’t know that there was anything in it I didn’t instinctively know already, but it was very helpfully set out in a memorable way. I will re-read it regularly along with Dave Hansen’s The Art of Pastoring and Eugene Peterson’s books on pastoral ministry.

I read a good bit of poetry this year: Dante, John Clare, Oscar Wilde, Wendell Berry, William Cowper, Peter Dale. Later in the year I got snagged in the massive Collected Poems of Thomas Hardy, which I still haven’t finished (it’s 900 pages long). Hardy is brilliant, but he’s hard work and I find I can only take him in small doses.

Finally, I’m glad to say that I read the Bible all the way through again this year. I read the Bible daily, but I haven’t been very successful over the years in finding a Bible-reading plan and sticking to it. This year I chose the One Year Bible, and I picked the New International Version 2011 as my translation for the year. I really enjoyed the daily mix of Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs, and by the end of the year I had definitely formed a habit. I’ll do it again this year, I know, possibly with the New Living Translation. (Note: there are now four translations of the Bible I’ve read all the way through: the Living Bible, the New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha, the King James Version with Apocrypha, and the NIV 2011).