Archives For Happiness

Dallas Willard

Personal Reflection

I found Dallas’s answers compelling, but even as a religious person myself, I was somewhat shocked that Dallas put so much stress on the teachings of Jesus as the foundation of the Good Life today. Dallas is a philosopher who has read thousands of books of all genres; certainly there are books of philosophy and psychology that touch on the same principles that would be easier for modern readers. “There is no other book or philosophical teaching that compares?” I asked.

Again, he answered my question with another question. “Nick, what has been the most influential speech in history?”

I was stumped. I was recalling several speeches from American history including MLK’s “I have a Dream” and JFK’s “Ask not what you country can do for you.” But, I knew these only touched a small slice of people in whole scheme of human history. I thought back to the Bible. “I guess it would have to be Jesus’ teachings.”

He said that I was correct, more specifically, the answer is the Sermon on the Mount. No other speech has had the same massive influence. Nearly every society of the Western world for the last 2,000 years has been impacted by its message and the actions it has inspired. This fact has helped him trust in the Bible to be a source of knowledge that guides him through life’s complicated paths. He believes that everyone, not just professors like himself, can be positively impacted by following its timeless truths.

Looking through a Philosophical Lens

Though Dallas’s ideas were more religious than most that I interviewed, I hope that they did not come across as if it were my attempt to preach on what faith you should ascribe to. What I was hoping to do with this entry is to show an answer to the Good Life question looking through a philosophical framework. I found it interesting that Dallas came to conclusion that life must have a spiritual component by examining it from his philosophical framework.


Superficiality is the curse of our age.  The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem.  The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.

–Richard Foster

I  know the power obedience has of making things easy which seem impossible.

–Teresa of Avila


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dallas willardWhile at our conference at the Chesapeake Bay, I asked Dallas if he could elaborate more on how belief should inspire action. He did so by giving me a simple example. He pointed to the chair I was I sitting on. “Nick, did you believe that chair was going to support you before you sat upon it?”

“Um…yeah. It looks to be a sturdy wooden chair with four legs. I don’t see why not.”

“So, when you decided to come over here to talk with me, you did not hesitate to sit upon it. You trusted it would support you, so you took action.” He explained how this should be the case with individuals who follow spiritual teachings. They should hold a belief so strongly that they do not even have to consciously think to act on it. Dallas fears this is not the case for many fellow Christians because they see Jesus as either a magician who can cancel all their wrongs with a snap of a finger, or an ancient sage-like figure who presented a wispy notion of good moral behavior.

Dallas believes Jesus’s teachings represent more than this – he believes they are the wisest instructions for us to use in making decisions. He believes we should trust in these teachings to the point that we know they will lead us to the Good Life if we take action on them.

The Kingdom Principle

Now that I have given you some of Dallas’s theological beliefs and the philosophical framework in which he broke down the question, I want to give you the exact response that he gave when I reconnected with him at a recent event at Stanford University. He said, “The Good Life is those who live in the Kingdom of God.” By “Kingdom of God,” he is referring to those who recognize they have an eternal destiny if they choose to use their range of influence to bring God’s will into society.

Dallas noted that the phrase “the Good Life” has been used routinely in our culture to the point that it now lacks the meaning that philosophers imply when they use the term. For example, he referenced the former slogan of Sears: “The Good Life at a Great Price.”

“This leads you to believe the Good Life can be purchased,” Dallas stated. “But this is not the case. The Good Life is not a commodity that is attained by human work.” The Good Life is something we obtain by discovering the truth. John of the New Testament tells us ‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.’ “That is the Good Life,” Dallas explained. “Life in the Kingdom of God where there is no fear and a complete hope for an eternal future.”

The world can no longer be left to mere diplomats, politicians, and business leaders. They have done the best they could, no doubt. But this is an age for spiritual heroes- a time for men and women to be heroic in their faith and in spiritual character and power.

— Dallas Willard

Go to Part 3 >>

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C.S. Lewis on the purpose of life joy The Meaning of Life

According to Lewis, life is a journey that can lead us to the ultimate source of joy. He said we will wander down various paths and enjoy tastes of joy along the way, but our main goal should be to prepare ourselves for our true home. To use a modern example, it is like taking a long car ride to a destination such as Disney World. We should be able to enjoy the scenery of the drive and enjoy resting at fuel stops along the way. However, it would be a shame to spend too much time trying to enjoy our vacation at gas stations and on the shoulder of the highway when an all-expenses-paid vacation awaits us at our destination. The hope we have for our experience at Disneyworld should inspire us to travel more quickly and have an overall better time on our journey.


In previous entries, we have talked about the importance of “home” in relation to the Good Life. I think Lewis would agree that having a loving community that provides us with rest, hope, and joy is essential to the Good Life.

If I were to ask C.S. Lewis the Good Life question, I am sure he would respond by telling me that the Good Life comes from experiencing things which provide us with a sense of joy that could only be described as heavenly. I think he would also repeat the famous of lines of St. Augustine: “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

What was this Entry Supposed to be about again?

I must apologize. I realize this chapter was a little abstract and probably seemed a bit like a research paper. IOther entries on happiness will be more interactive discussions with unique personalities in the next chapter. However, I wanted to be a little more academic here, so that we start formulating intellectual answers to the following questions:

  • What is my worldview toward happiness and how does it differ from C.S. Lewis’s or Aristotle’s?
  • What is more important — happiness or joy?
  •  What measurement am I going to use to know that I am living the Good Life?

To develop better answers to these crucial questions, we’ll continue to meet others from a range of different disciplines who will have many thoughts to share about happiness, joy, and the Good Life.

I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy.
— C. S. Lewis

Joy is not in things, it is in us.
— Richard Wagner

Joy is the feeling of grinning on the inside.
— Dr. Melba Colgrove

Know that joy is rarer, more difficult, and more beautiful than sadness. Once you make this all-important discovery, you must embrace joy as a moral obligation.
— Andre Gide

The very nature of Joy makes nonsense of our common distinction between having and wanting.
— C.S. Lewis

Read the Bio of C.S. Lewis and other reflections by Nick >>
C.S. Lewis on joy

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C.S. Lewis on Happiness and the Good LifeBecoming a Child

In addition to the medieval castle-like buildings that dominate its skyline, the city of Oxford, England also boasts great walking trails. Lewis would go on these trails for hours at a time, letting his imagination go wild, thinking about things such as talking animals and magical wardrobes. Though Lewis was a serious academic who wrote scholarly works that most today would have trouble comprehending, he preferred reading and writing children’s books because he loved allowing his mind to return to the hope and dreams that he had as a child.

What is Joy?

Now that I have given you a short biography on Lewis, I want to get back to the main topic of this chapter – comparing happiness and joy. The differences in the two words are subtle, but they are worth pointing out.

Lewis defines joy as finding our heart’s deepest longing. Joy is more of a desire than a state of pleasure or emotion. According to Lewis, “[Joy is] an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.”[1]

Lewis’s worldview hinges upon the belief that all desires must have an object to satisfy them.  He states:

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”[2]

Lewis views this “other world,” or Heaven, to be the object that will satisfy our ultimate desire.

Building on Lewis’ ideas, I define joy as a desire that produces sustained happiness to the point where you are compelled to savor it and share it with others. Joy is intense. It produces a burning sensation in our hearts that compels us to act on it. Lewis describes this deep-burning desire when he says, “Joy in my sense has indeed one characteristic…the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again…I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world.”[3]

When I say, “having a passion for something,” I am speaking of a love associated with this deep sense of joy. My belief is that this joy is produced by experiencing things such as beauty, love, and truth.

Continue to Part 3 on C.S. Lewis and the Meaning of Life >>

C.S. Lewis Happiness

[1] Surprised by Joy, Chapter 1. paragraph 18.

[2] Mere Christianity, Book III, chapter 10. “Hope.”

[3] Surprised by Joy, Chapter 1. paragraph 18.

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happiness 3Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.
— Aristotle

Love is the joy of the good, the wonder of the wise, the amazement of the Gods.
In many other entries, happiness has been a common theme in our conversations about the Good Life. In the hundreds of interviews that I have done, many people assume that happiness is the standard for judging whether someone is living the Good Life. When they tell me of a time when they felt they were living the Good Life, they usually revert back to a time when they were “most happy.” Their answers seem to imply that if you are happy, or happier than others, you must be living the Good Life. But is this correct? I don’t want to pick a philosophical fight with Aristotle (see quote above), but I disagree.

My disagreement with the Aristotelian notion about happiness being humankind’s ultimate aim is more of a matter of semantics. Happiness is a loose term that we use to describe a wide range of positive emotions. I believe it takes a stronger word to describe what the people in this book have when they describe their perspectives on the Good Life. What these people have is what I call “joy.”

To provide you with a better understanding of joy and how it relates to the Good Life, I ask that you be willing to travel back in time with me to meet an expert on this topic.

Across the Ocean and Across Time

The next person I want to introduce you to in our Good Life tour is the British author and professor C.S. Lewis. Even though Lewis died thirty years before I was born and lived over 5,000 miles away, I feel that I know him better than any of the others I have interviewed for this project.

I got to know Lewis through my studies at the University of Oxford. During this time, I participated in a program that was directed by a dean of Oxford who happened to be one of C.S. Lewis’s last graduate students. The highlight of my program was taking a course in which I analyzed nearly all of Lewis’s writings. During my year-long stay in England, I literally got to follow in Lewis’s footsteps by going to his favorite pub, visiting his personal home, and joining the same literary society that he and his colleagues started in the 1930’s. At the end of my studies at this academic paradise, I not only knew enough about Lewis to write a book inspired by his ideas, but also I felt that I had gotten to know him as a mentor and friend.

Lewis’s Legacy – The Books that Bear his Name

Today, Lewis is best known for being a spokesman for the Christian faith after going through a period in his younger years as an outspoken atheist. As a teenager, he encountered a brilliant teacher at his boarding school who was an atheist. The intellect of this teacher inspired Lewis to turn away from the teachings of the Church of Ireland that he was taught as a child. Later in his life, Lewis met several other Oxford professors and British intellectuals such as J.R.R Tolkien (author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy) who had many compelling arguments for their faith in God. These discussions led Lewis to believe that Christian and theist worldviews presented the most accurate picture in which to understand life.

Even though Lewis wrote many best-selling works on the Christian religion, he admits that he was no saint. He spent the majority of his life as a bachelor and enjoyed spending time with friends in Oxford pubs. At the pubs, the guys would have a beer, smoke a pipe, cuss, and get so rowdy that they were occasionally asked to leave by the owner. Though Lewis had plenty of fun at the Oxford pubs, he also used these social spaces to host a literary society called the The Inklings. By gathering many brilliant minds together on a weekly basis, Lewis was able to get feedback that helped  produce many bestselling works.

Lewis was also known by those in Oxford as being a kind-hearted man. He gave nearly all the royalties from his book sales to local charities and to the widows of Oxford. He rationalized that he was a professor and should live off his teaching salary, so he found joy by giving his additional income to those in need.

Continue to Part 2 on C.S. Lewis on the Purpose of Life >>

C.S. Lewis on Joy


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