Having heard Rick Warren speak about his attitude to giving at the HTB Leadership conference yesterday, it’s pertinent to post this old TED talk in which Rick explains what a life of purpose is about, which includes his attitude to the fame and wealth that came to him after explosive sales of his book.
Into the Wild is a movie based on the true story of Christopher McCandless. After he graduated from university in Atlanta, he disappeared, seemingly without trace. He drove out west in search of adventure, in effect to find himself. On the course of his journey, he lost his car in a flash flood, and ended up walking, canoeing and camping to continue his journey. In his desire to find meaning, he eradicated his identity, burning his driving license and social security card, and reinvented himself as “Alexander Supertramp”. He was convinced that the way to find true meaning and happiness was to go into the wild, so he headed for Alaska, woefully unprepared. I should warn you that spoilers follow….
Chris McCandless was portrayed in the film as determined to escape the life of western materialism that he was born into. He considered it to be a lie. Why? Well, he discovered truths about his parents that undermined his confidence in them – his father had another family that had been kept secret. He remembered the time when his parents sat he and his sister down around the dinner table and informed them they were going to get a divorce, and they should pick which parent they wanted to live with. The divorce never happened, but the marriage didn’t get any happier. He witnessed blazing arguments and even violence between his mother and father. All the time, the family kept up the appearance of a well-kept, happy, loving family, which had fun together, spent time together and went to church together – living the American dream. It is this that led Chris McCandless into leaving, going into the wild to find himself. I guess the message that the film gave to me was that a lack of integrity between inner life and family and outward appearance can be very damaging indeed. It is indeed, living a lie.
Secondly, the film portrayed Chris as leaving to find himself and find happiness. He was convinced the only way of doing this was to go into the wild on his own, survive by himself, and commune with nature. On his way out there he met many interesting people, from farm labourers in South Dakota, to Hippies in Slab City, to a nice old man in Northern California. From each person he learns, and enjoys their company. But he was still convinced that Alaska was the place to go. He headed out beyond Fairbanks and finds an abandoned bus in the middle of nowhere which had previously been used as a hunting shelter. He makes this his home and starts to hunt and scavenge. At one point it seems that he has learned his lesson and found himself, so he starts to make his way home, only to find that a river that he crossed on his way out had swelled and was impassible. He reluctantly returns to the bus. This time he is overcome by desperation and loneliness. At the end of the film, when Chris is dying from starvation – there had been a lack of animals he could hunt for food – he writes in his journal: “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED” – and he remembers all the interesting relationships he struck up on his journey out West. I think this is a good point – happiness comes from relationships, with each other and with God, not through achieving tasks or ‘finding oneself’. It’s a shame that Chris had to be on the point of death to realise this.
The movie itself is beautifully shot – not difficult considering the beautiful surroundings of the countryside of Alaska and the West Coast. The Acting from Emile Hirsch and others is excellent. Well worth watching.
A set of photos from the bus which Chris made his home can be found here.
Some interesting thoughts from the university of Warwick, cited in this article on the BBC:
Religion ‘linked to happy life’
Belief may make us more contented
A belief in God could lead to a more contented life, research suggests. Religious people are better able to cope with shocks such as losing a job or divorce, claims the study presented to a Royal Economic Society conference.
Data from thousands of Europeans revealed higher levels of “life satisfaction” in believers.
However, researcher Professor Andrew Clark said other aspects of a religious upbringing unrelated to belief may influence future happiness.
What we found was that religious people were experiencing current day rewards, rather than storing them up for the futureProfessor Andrew Clark
Paris School of Economics
This is not the first study to draw links between religion and happiness, with a belief among many psychologists that some factor in either belief, or its observance, offering benefits.
Professor Clark, from the Paris School of Economics, and co-author Dr Orsolya Lelkes from the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research, used information from household surveys to analyse the attitudes of Christians – both Catholic and Protestant – not only to their own happiness, but also to issues such as unemployment.
Their findings, they said, suggested that religion could offer a “buffer” which protected from life’s disappointments.
Professor Clark said: “We originally started the research to work out why some European countries had more generous unemployment benefits than others, but our analysis suggested that religious people suffered less psychological harm from unemployment than the non-religious.
“They had higher levels of life satisfaction”.
Purpose of life
Even though churchgoers were unsurprisingly more likely to oppose divorce, they were both less psychologically affected by marital separation when it did happen, he said.
“What we found was that religious people were experiencing current day rewards, rather than storing them up for the future.”
However, he said that the nature of the surveys used meant that undetected factors, perhaps in the lifestyle or upbringing of religious people, such as stable family life and relationships, could be the cause of this increased satisfaction.
The precise contribution of religion to mental health remains controversial, although there is other evidence that it does directly improve happiness, said Professor Leslie Francis, from the University of Warwick.
He said that the benefit might stem from the increased “purpose of life” felt by believers.
He said: “These findings are consistent with other studies which suggest that religion does have a positive effect, although there are other views which say that religion can lead to self-doubt, and failure, and thereby have a negative effect.
“The belief that religion damages people is still in the minds of many.”
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, which represents the interests of atheists and agnostics, said that studies purporting to show a link between happiness and religion were “all meaningless”.
“Non-believers can’t just turn on a faith in order to be happy. If you find religious claims incredible, then you won’t believe them, whatever the supposed rewards in terms of personal fulfilment.
“Happiness is an elusive concept, anyway – I find listening to classical music blissful and watching football repulsive.
“Other people feel exactly the opposite. In the end, it comes down to the individual and, to an extent, their genetic predispositions.”
But Justin Thacker, head of Theology for the Evangelical Alliance, said that there should now be no doubt about the connection between religious belief and happiness.
“There is more than one reason for this – part of it will be the sense of community and the relationships fostered, but that doesn’t account for all of it.
“A large part of it is due to the meaning, purpose and value which believing in God gives you, whereas not believing in God can leave you without those things.”
What I find interesting is the paragraph about divorce, saying that churchgoers were ‘less psycologically affected when it did happen’. I presume this is from the sense of community and support from each other, as well as from trusting in God in the difficult times. By looking outside of oneself it seems churchgoers are more able to cope through the distress.