Another Week Ends

A Car Named Faith, Hygge Happiness, Affectionate Friendships, Genuine Remorse, and a Banjo-less Mumford

Todd Brewer / 7.9.21

1. Kicking off this week’s roundup, our very own CJ Green has published a short story in Image Journal that everyone should read. “Faith” is about a pizza delivery boy who drives an old jalopy. When the car spins out in the snow during a tense pizza run, the character is rescued by a troubled priest.

2. We’ve written about hygge on here a couple of times (positively and less so). Hygge, for reference, is touted as the secret sauce to Nordic happiness, which is off the charts compared to American happiness. Books have been written about hygge and its mental health benefits: long walks in nature, blankets, candles, and fuzzy sweaters. I think I got that right. This week the Atlantic revisited the hygge cure for our depressive woes, finding the likely solution to be far simpler:

Taking forest walks and foraging for berries do sound delightful, but a focus on activities and habits reduces entire cultures to individual lifestyle trends and obscures the structural forces that make people satisfied with their lives. […] When I asked Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia who studies happiness, how much happier I’d be if I cultivated hygge in my life, she said, “Probably not at all.” […]

Perhaps deeper insights can be gained from looking beyond the trends of cozy hearths and nature walks. Even the Nordic countries themselves have a lesser-known cultural ideal that probably brings happiness more reliably than hygge. Jukka Savolainen, a Finnish American sociology professor at Wayne State University, in Michigan, argued in Slate that the essence of his happy home region is best captured by lagom, a Swedish and Norwegian word meaning “just the right amount.”

Savolainen even theorizes that this inclination toward moderation shapes residents’ responses to the happiness ranking’s central question. “The Nordic countries are united in their embrace of curbed aspirations for the best possible life,” he writes. “In these societies, the imaginary 10-step ladder is not so tall.”

Lower expectations: Maybe they’ll make you happier. At the very least, they’ll come in handy for Americans when the 10th World Happiness Report comes out next year.

When it comes to personal happiness, the quick fix of hygge probably won’t do the trick. Doing more might make things worse. The bigger problem has to do with our climb-the-ladder, aspirational view of life, aka a “theology of glory.” Perhaps those Lutherans are onto something after all? Heh …

3. Another version of the “lower your expectations” key to happiness can be found in Christianity Today‘s recent article on friendship. At a time when everyone seems to insist on ditching so-called “toxic” friendships, which so often is code for people with whom you disagree, Bonnie Kristan suggests otherwise. Rather than Marie Kondo-ing loved ones who don’t contribute to your personal happiness, bearing with them (and — it should be said — them bearing with you), might just be what friendship is all about:

American individualism is nothing new, yet for decades our circles have become ever smaller. Households are shrinking; local organizations are on a long decline. Social life is contracting to just me and those few with whom I choose, for now, to spend my time. And it may only be “for now” if the alliance ceases to be mutually beneficial.

Friendship in this model is a thin thing, a thing that might be jettisoned if it becomes more trouble than it’s worth, tossed overboard like Jonah to calm the storm. […]

But having a friend who doesn’t agree with you on big things can be wonderful too, as you help each other mature (Prov. 27:17). Sometimes it may also be difficult and morally messy. But if we preclude that type of friendship in our rush for political allies, where do we end up? Probably about where we are now. Our society’s loneliness epidemic is widely recognized, and we struggle to have meaningful conversations about important topics. […]

Affection, I’ve begun to suspect, is what too many of our relationships are missing. Its absence is why they aren’t wearing very well, why they struggle to bear up under the pressure of political polarization, theological divide, or other ideological difference. Perhaps we’re missing affection in this transient, testy, isolating age because we won’t hold still long enough for it to accumulate. There’s always another person, place, or post vying for our attention.

It’s difficult enough to make new friends, let alone ones that will tolerate us. Because that’s usually the rub — the friend that seems like such an obstacle to our own happiness is probably showing us far more grace than we realize.

4. One thing that we could all probably afford to throw overboard without remorse? At the risk of belaboring the point, the answer might be social media. But as Caitlin Flanagan found, it’s far easier said than done. Twitter wasn’t merely a platform for her, but an addiction. It had “hacked itself” deeply into her brain and changed the way she thought.

… a corporation that operates against my best interests has me thinking in 280 characters. Every thought, every experience, seems to be reducible to this haiku, and my mind is instantly engaged by the challenge of concision. Once the line is formed, why not put it out there? Twitter is a red light, blinking, blinking, blinking, destroying my ability for private thought, sucking up all my talent and wit. Put it out there, post it, see how it does. What pours out is an ungodly sluice of high-minded opinions, sharp rebukes, jokes, transactional compliments, and mundane bulletins from my private life (to the extent that I have one anymore).

After years of her family and employer putting up with her addiction, she proverbially checked herself into Twitter rehab. She had her son change her password for 28 days and hid the secret code. She signed a literal contract with him. After a week, she couldn’t take it anymore: She was dreaming about Twitter in her sleep. Her takeaway after 28+ days without a fix is pretty grim:

Twitter is a parasite that burrows deep into your brain, training you to respond to the constant social feedback of likes and retweets. That takes only a week or two. Human psychology is pathetically simple to manipulate. Once you’re hooked, the parasite becomes your master, and it changes the way you think. Even now, I’m dopesick, dying to go back.

It’s no wonder Reductress can offer this gem: Wow! This Woman Just Spent 40 Minutes Investigating A Twitter Beef Even Though She Has but One Life on God’s Green Earth.” Flanagan’s experience perhaps explains why there aren’t many articles out there extolling the virtues of social media moderation or having a health relationship with it.

5. In keeping with the (slightly) darker side of the news, the former lawyer Michael Avenatti was sent to prison this week for extortion. For reference, Avenatti was on TV everywhere a few years ago and is the kind of former public figure who, lets just say, doesn’t have many friends. But the totally unexpected statement he gave at his sentencing, tears and all, strikes me as the epitome of genuine remorse from someone at the end of his rope. [Note: I’ve had to piece together the full quote from a variety of news outlets.]

I and I alone have destroyed my career, my relationships, my life, and there is no doubt that I deserve to pay, have paid, and will pay a further price for what I have done. I dreamed about becoming a lawyer. About becoming a trial lawyer. About doing good, and about pursuing and achieving justice. For years I did just that, but then I lost my way. I betrayed my own values, my friends, my family and myself. I betrayed my profession. I became driven by the things that don’t matter in life. Over the past two years, your honor, I have thought to myself, why did this need to happen. Your honor, I’ve learned that all the fame, notoriety, and money in the world is meaningless. TV and Twitter, your honor, mean nothing. I will never have the privilege of practicing law again. I am deeply humbled before you today. I have destroyed my career, my relationships, and my life. Every father wants their children to be proud of them. I want mine to be ashamed. Because if they are ashamed, it means their moral compass is exactly where it should be. 

6. If you haven’t heard, the banjo player for Mumford and Sons (Winston Marshall) recently quit the band and wrote a letter explaining why. Who cares about the banjo player? Well, apparently everyone. He had tweeted praise for a book by a conservative author and the Twitter backlash became a firestorm. He wrote an apology for his tweet, but then conservative Twitter was incensed. His letter is mostly sad — walking away from the thing you’ve loved is never easy — but the follow-up conversation he had with Bari Weiss is brilliant:

BW: Over the past year I’ve read ‘Live not by Lies’ dozens of times. For me I’m relating to it historically. But when I saw that you quoted him, given that I know that you are religious and that he was a devout Christian, I wondered if it resonated for you on a deeper level and if that was one of the reasons that you decided to quote that essay in yours.

WM: I quoted the essay because I was reading it in that period between the apology and my Medium post and that particular passage was just hitting me. I think Solzhenitsyn is relevant to this situation. He talks about the line between good and evil cutting through the center of every human heart. And that is lost in discourse today, I think a lot of people say, ‘oh, he’s a good guy’ or ‘f*ck that guy, he’s a bad guy.’ Instead of accepting what I think is a Christian value, the idea that everyone is fallen, it’s back to the binary black and white, good guys, bad guys, goodies, baddies. 

Another bit of Solzhenitsyn in the article from the Gulag Archipelago, which is: “Purify your heart, rub your eyes and cherish above all else those who love you and wish you well.” That line made me feel like I was doing the right thing in trying to protect my bandmates, but I’m not too familiar with Solzhenitsyn and his faith.

My faith has played a big part in this period of my life and actually the week before making the final decision, I was pretty much planted in my local Catholic Church around the corner from the house. It’s a bloody big moment for me. […]

BW: One of the things that I have noticed is that an inordinate number of people who have been willing to tell the truth and stand up to the new illiberalism, are religious. And I wondered if you could just tell us a little bit more about how your faith guided you through this decision or maybe to put it another way, maybe it’s that your faith anchors you in values that are so much bigger and more eternal than the idiot winds that feel like they’re sweeping through our politics every day.

WM: Well, if I can quote the great American theologian of all time, Kanye West, he said, fear God and you will fear nothing else. And I love that because for me, I do fear God. And I think it’s true. That if you fear God sincerely, then you won’t fear worldly issues, worldly problems. 

7. On the lighter side this week, the Onion perfectly captures how ridicule/judgment can kill love: “Child Being Teased About Having Crush Angrily Asserts He Incapable Of Love.” The Hard Times parodies the quick-fixes we latch onto in life in “Turns Out Dry Shampoo Is the Glue Holding This Woman Together” — who needs therapy anyways?

But the Onion hits a home run with this instant classic, “Study: ‘Truly Being Seen’ Still Ranks Among Worst Possible Experiences In Human Existence“:

In the results of a new study published in the Journal Of Woe, researchers from Stanford University revealed Tuesday that “truly being seen” still ranks among the worst possible experiences in human existence. “We’ve found conclusive evidence that realizing somebody has managed to look past your protective façade and recognize you for who you are continues to be the most punishing and humiliating experience the human psyche is capable of withstanding,” said lead researcher David Nguyen, who noted that the phenomenon once again outranked the sensation of drowning, being on fire, and amputation of the limbs without anesthetic, and narrowly edged out feeling as if no one sees you at all. “Breaking your neck, getting mauled by a grizzly, losing your entire family in an accident you caused — our research shows they all pale in comparison to the agony of your personal desires, motivations being perceived. Interestingly enough, we found that the only worse possible human experience is seeing yourself for the miserable, weak little creature you truly are.” At press time, Nguyen concluded that this is exactly why you should never let anyone get that close to you.


Images via the Atlantic.