What makes for a good life? I’m not asking what make life good – that’s easy, it can be found on any number of t-shirts.
What makes life good is camping, pets, music, picnics, hiking waterskiing and the list goes on and while these can make life good and enjoyable, can they make for a good life? Chuck Colson, who spent 7 months in prison for obstruction of justice during the Watergate Scandal, went on to become the founder of Prison Fellowship and the author of many books on living out our Christian faith and one of those books was actually called, The Good Life. Chuck Colson said that he looked forward to retirement when he could spend all of his time on the golf course. Chuck retired to one of the many golf communities in Florida and spent all of his days golfing and what he found was that golf makes life good but it doesn’t make for a good life. Golf soon lost its luster and Chuck realized that there was more needed to make a good life.
People have been asking how to make a good life for centuries. The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrestled with this very question when he explored the issue of Eudaimonia – the state of having a good indwelling spirit – or a good life. Aristotle and other poets, thinkers and philosophers throughout history have explored all the different avenues of what makes for a good life and while they may come to different conclusions, one of the avenues they have all explored is the accumulation of material possessions. From the very beginning there has been this idea that the more we have – the better life will be. The thought is that more possessions equals a good life. The person who really tried this out was Solomon and we hear what happened to him in the book of Ecclesiastes.
While the author of Ecclesiastes is just known as the teacher, there are many who believe Solomon wrote this about his own pursuit of finding a good life. Whether it was written by Solomon or someone reflecting on Solomon’s life, we find here some profound and timeless truths about what makes for a good life. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11.
Solomon had it all. He had absolutely everything there was to have in life and he actually made the pursuit of gaining all these things his focus. It says that Solomon did not deny himself anything that he wanted. He acquired land, homes, gold and silver. He surrounded himself with servants and slaves to cater to his every need and he was known to have hundreds of wives or concubines to fulfill every physical desire and pleasure. He was the wealthiest person in the world at the time and yet when he reflected on all he had accumulated, he realized that at the core – his life was empty. Everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
It is believed that Solomon lived about 900 years before Christ which means that for 3,000 years we have had this teaching telling us that more stuff doesn’t make for a good life and yet what do many people do? They work to accumulate more stuff thinking that their possessions will make the happy, give them security and bring an inner peace and joy. If I just had a new house I would be happy. If I just had a better paying job I would be secure. If I just had a new wardrobe, a new car, or a new phone I would have a good life. If I could just win the lottery or be the next publisher’s clearinghouse sweepstakes winner I would have a good life and yet what Solomon told us 3,000 years ago is that more stuff is not the way to a good life. More possessions doesn’t equal a good life and if you don’t believe this then watch a few episodes of Hoarders.
Not only does the pursuit of more stuff not make for a good life, it can actually bring pain and destruction. Let’s go back to the story of Adam and Eve. They were given everything they could ever want or need in the garden. They had a good life – a really good life, paradise in fact, and yet they were not content or satisfied with what they had and they tried to get more. While they were told they could eat from any tree in the garden but one, they were not satisfied so began to think about eating from that one tree. They thought having more would make life better. So they made that pursuit their focus and once they got it, they lost everything. When we try to get everything we can in life and when we try to fulfill every desire we often lose it all.
We know all of this is true because we are seeing it played out in the scandals coming out of Hollywood. We have been hearing all kinds of stories about people who have been living with the same mindset as Solomon. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired. I refused my heart no pleasure. This is how many people in Hollywood have lived. They have so much and yet they want more, but this is not just a problem of Hollywood, political leaders or those in powerful, it is the disease we all struggle with. We think getting more will make us happy. More stuff will equal a good life and yet the pursuit of more is meaningless because it is a chasing after the wind. We never get enough, it always comes up empty, we search for more and we risk losing everything we have.
So the picture the world gives is that a good life comes with more possessions and more wealth but God tells us that path is meaningless and leads to being empty and disillusioned. So let’s do some reframing and learn where the good life comes from. It doesn’t come from more possessions it comes from being content with the possessions we have and we can learn to be content with what we have by doing one simple thing – giving thanks.
Gratitude is the first key to a good life. We will be looking at six keys to making a good life and probably the most important and powerful one is gratitude. The single most important factor to seeing life as good and actually being healthy and happy is being grateful. This is not just me saying this because it sounds like a good thing to say in church, study after study have proved this.
Dr. Robert A. Emmons is the world’s leading expert on gratitude. He is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and author of several books on gratitude and giving thanks. Through his research on gratitude he has discovered that people who weekly kept a list of what they were grateful for exercised more, had fewer physical problems and illnesses, felt better about their lives and were more optimistic. In other words, people who practiced giving thanks were happier and healthier than those who didn’t.
Young adults who kept lists of things they were grateful for reported being more alert, enthusiastic, determined and attentive to what was going on around them and they helped others more often. Those who were sick and entered into a 21 day gratitude experiment reported having better moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others and they experienced better and deeper sleep. Children who practice giving thanks daily had more positive attitudes toward school and their families.
If all this isn’t enough, here is what else they found. Grateful people placed less importance on material goods; they were less likely to judge their own and other people’s success in terms of possessions accumulated; they were less envious of others and they were more likely to share their possessions with those in need. So really, it is pretty simple, a good life comes with a lifestyle of giving thanks. There is perhaps no greater force in creating a good life than gratitude and this is an attitude and practice that we can learn and cultivate in our lives. Gratitude starts by simply taking some time every day to stop and give thanks for what we have. The simple act of saying grace before a meal gives us three opportunities each day to give thanks. When we stop to thank God for the food we have it is the beginning of a life of gratitude.
Some people have a tradition of going around the table on Thanksgiving and sharing one thing for which they are thankful. Wouldn’t it be interesting if people in your family started a list today of what they are thankful for and then after dinner while you waiting for the turkey to settle and make room for the pumpkin pie people could go around and share those lists. If we learn to give thanks for what we have we become content and we spend less time thinking about what we want and think we need which can literally free us from wanting more stuff. This is an important attitude of the heart to develop before the rush of Christmas. We need to remember that a good life and a good holiday isn’t going to be found in boxes and stockings but in a heart of gratitude. We can and need to start shaping that heart today.
There is one box however, that can help bring a good life to someone else and that is these shoe boxes. These boxes remind us of all that we have and that we have so much to be thankful for. The toys and items in these boxes will not be what makes a good life for the children who receive them, what will make their life good is knowing that they are not forgotten by the world, that their lives mean something to someone, that they are loved and that they are loved by God. These boxes can make a difference in the life of a child and in our hearts and lives as well.
So gratitude makes for a good life which is why Paul said, Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. God wants us to experience a good life so tells us that the foundation is a heart of gratitude and giving thanks at all times.
To understand the second key to a good life, let me tell you about when I first went to college. When I thought about starting college hundreds of miles away from home in a new state and among new people I thought it was the perfect time to remake my life. I decided that I wanted to be more like Solomon – not wise, but finding pleasure in all that the world had to offer. I wanted to party and have fun and I even asked God to bring those things into my life so I could experience it all. God did just that and put me in the best place to experience all the excesses of college life – an all-male dorm and an all-freshman floor. I could have had it all and yet I found out very quickly that there was actually nothing lasting in what I saw around me. Drinking, drugs, relationships that developed and died over a weekend didn’t bring people a good life – it was a chasing after the wind and often led to destruction.
At the same time I got involved in a Christian fellowship where I saw people living life differently. They had a lasting sense of joy and they had something I deeply wanted at that time in my life – a sense of direction. I came to realize that what helped them experience a good life was a deep sense of purpose. Purpose makes for a good life.
We all need an underlying sense of meaning and direction in life. Not what we do from day to day, not our jobs or families or callings and careers – those add to our purpose, but when I talk about living with purpose I am talking about something more fundamental.
Let’s go back to Solomon’s story. Solomon looked at everything in this world to make a good life and it all came up empty, except for this. Here is the end of Solomon’s story, Ecclesiastes 12:13 – Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter; Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. So what makes for a good life is living with a sense of purpose and our purpose is simply this, fear God and keep his commandments. Now to fear God doesn’t mean living in fear of God or to be afraid of God but to be in awe of God, or we might say to love God, and to keep God’s commandments might be summed as loving our neighbor as ourselves. So the greater purpose that makes for a good life is the Jesus Creed – it’s loving God and loving others.
This is what I saw lived out in my friends in college. In the dorms I saw people looking to accumulate more stuff; more drinks, more relationships, more possessions and among my friends in IVCF I saw people loving God and loving others. In the dorm I saw people empty at the end of the night or worse, I saw them in pain at the end of the weekend, among those I knew through IVCF I saw people content, at peace, joyful and more fulfilled.
Two pictures of the good life – but one was counterfeit, one was false, one was fake news – more stuff doesn’t make a good life and it doesn’t even make life good. A good life comes when we learn to give thanks and when we live with a greater sense of purpose, a purpose that comes with a deeper relationship with God. Now is the time to learn how to make a good life. We can’t let this upcoming season define what makes for a good life, instead we need to start today to give thanks and every day we need to continue to allow our love for God and others to shape the choices we make in living and loving.
The Good Life – Gratitude and Purpose
1. The Good Life
• In what ways have you been looking for the good life?
• Where have you turned to try and make a good life?
• Where have those roads led you?
o What was good? What was bad?
• Read about Solomon’s search for a good life in Ecclesiastes 2:1-11
• Start a gratitude list or journal.
• Every day identify three things you are thankful for and add them to the list.
• Pray and thank God for these things every day.
• Share this list with your family and friends on Thanksgiving Day.
• What is the purpose of your life?
• What did Solomon say was the purpose of life in Ecclesiastes 12:13?
o Do you agree that this reflects the Jesus Creed?
• How can you keep loving God and loving others as part of your purpose (and your family’s purpose) during the upcoming Holiday season?
Give thanks in this season by supporting both the ministry of Operation Christmas Child and the Christmas Food Drive for the Food Bank. Shoeboxes and food items are both needed at the church by November 19th. Giving in this way cultivates both gratitude and purpose.