The happiest place to live
Mark Fairweather-Tall explains what he believes an abundant, happy life should look like.
“Norwich named one of the unhappiest places in the country to live”, reported the Eastern Daily Press recently. The article went on to explain how research by the Office of National Statistics had been carried out leaving Norwich in the bottom five of unhappiest places to live.
Of course, the value of such surveys can be questioned, especially as others find Norwich to be a good place to live. For example, The Sunday Times 2019 list of ‘Best Places in the East to Live’, includes Norwich. Then there is my own experience. As someone who has lived in Norwich for over a decade, I would say that Norwich is a very happy place to live. Indeed, when I first moved to the city, I was told that it is ‘the graveyard of ambition’, because once people live in Norwich, they don’t want to leave.
What interested me in this survey, however, is the questions that people were asked. There were four well-being questions: i) how satisfied are you with your life? ii) to what extent do you feel the things you are doing in life are worthwhile? iii) how happy did you feel yesterday? iv) how anxious did you feel yesterday? Having analysed the results, Norwich scored 7.15 out of 10, compared to the Ribble Valley which scored 8.30 for happiness.
These are interesting questions, but no indication is given in the article about what kind of things would make people feel satisfied with life; what would make their life feel worthwhile; what makes them happy; what made them feel anxious?
Oscar Wilde once said: “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all”. As a Christian, my thoughts turn to the words of Jesus: “The thief only comes to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 (ESV). The natural default position for followers of Jesus should be experiencing fullness of life that comes through Jesus.
The Message version of the Bible puts it like this: “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” However, the reality is that for Christians sometimes life is difficult, and we might feel unhappy because of difficult circumstances. How should we understand the words of Jesus then? And what does Jesus mean by abundant life?
Perhaps it is helpful to start by understanding that whilst in English we have one word for ‘life’, the Greeks had three different words. One word is ‘bios’ and this refers to the physical body, from which we get the word ‘biology’. Secondly, ‘psyche’ life refers to the life you get when you are born, and it is the life you lose when you die. If someone says, “I have a great life – I love my job, my family and my health is great”, they are referring to their ‘psyche’ life. When Jesus speaks of being the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, the word used is ‘psyche’.
However, it is the third word that is used by Jesus in this verse – the word ‘zoe’. ‘Zoe’ life is outside of and independent of time. ‘Zoe’ life is the life that comes from God and the life that is found in God. It is often accompanied by the word eternal.
How might this be illustrated (recognising that any illustration has its limitations)? Imagine getting up in the morning, drawing the curtains and looking up to the sky. We might see dull grey skies and rain falling. There might be lighter, higher clouds and occasionally we may even look up and see blue skies! When we talk about the clouds or blue sky we are talking about the weather and the weather is always changing. Above the weather is the sky. Imagine flying when it is raining. When you get to a certain height you move through the clouds and see blue sky again. Above the weather is the sky. The sky contains the weather, but it is not defined by it.
The weather is like ‘psyche’ life. We have times in our lives of sunny skies, and we have times of clouds, and times of thunderous rain. The weather in our lives is changeable. Above the weather is ‘zoe’ life in God. This is unchanging and constant. When Jesus talks about abundant life he is talking about life in God. It isn’t defined by the weather of experiencing good or bad things in our individual lives; rather it is defined by the promises of God. Jesus came to reveal the bigger picture of truth that we can see when we rise through the clouds and focus on who Jesus is and what he has done for us.
We can experience ‘zoe’ life even when we are feeling anxious or depressed or despondent. Through the bad weather there is ‘zoe’ life that can bring us joy, hope, peace, satisfaction, well-being and completeness. Where we live may make a difference to our ‘psyche’ but as a Christian I find my true happiness not in the place that I live, but through the one who is always with me.
As I write the words of Isaiah come to mind: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles…” (Isaiah 40:31a). As we hope in the Lord we can soar above the weather of our lives and enjoy the abundant life that Jesus has come to bring. That truly is a happy place to live.
The above image is courtesy of Junior Peres Junior from Pixabay.com
Rev Mark Fairweather Tall is a Minister at Norwich Central Baptist Church.
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