Day 57 (Freedom)

[reaction to One Year Bible’s June 21-23 readings]

The title of today’s post is from Jonathan Franzen’s book of the same title, which I finished earlier tonight. Franzen’s book explores the ordinary lives of suburbanites who, once free from various things that are holding them down–parent child relationships, marriage vows, social convention, etc.–find generally find themselves no more happy than they were before. The book is full of settling on half-fulfilled expectations, largely as a result of how overgrown the expectations are.

I’d like to compare this to a Psalm 139 from today’s readings. It isn’t that long, but I don’t want to take up the space here. So click here and come back. How do these phrases strike the modern reader?

You hem me in—behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

Not necessarily good, right? Kind of suffocating. For me, that has always been at least a second response to these verses. Of course they are written as comfort. I suspect that many people would read this Psalm exclusively in terms of comfort.

On the third hand, I am not sure that the human race has completely adapted to its freedom. Many of us want freedom as individuals, but maybe we don’t have the tools yet to cope with it. And that seems to be the point of Franzen’s book. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the freedom is bad; it just means that perhaps more evolution is required.

2 replies on “Day 57 (Freedom)”

There also may just be no way to escape the level of happiness we were destined to enjoy. Studies show that, once you control for the inevitable depression immediately following catastrophic injury, paraplegics and even quadriplegics do not differ from the general population in self-reported levels of happiness.

Think about that for a minute, if you lost your arms *and* legs, you could expect to return to the same general level of happiness you enjoy today. I think that says something very powerful about one's genetic predisposition toward a certain level of contentment.


That there is a level of happiness that one is destined to enjoy is pretty chilling in no small part because my personal observation do not contradict this idea.

It is surely true that external circumstances are not the only thing that effects happiness, and as the study you cite suggests, maybe not not an affect at all in the long term.

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