The Times magazine ran four articles on Saturday on the unhappy state of British men. The articles were fascinating. The last one, by Robert Crampton, highlighted the root of the problem:
What really makes men happy?
Richer, safer, healthier, more long-lived, with a huge choice of leisure pursuits, lifestyles and material goods, men ought to be happy. But they’re not. We’re not…
Many of the men I know, including, not all the time, myself, are often at best dissatisfied and vaguely fed up; at worst, stewing with anger…
Live for today, the mantra that dominates our culture, simply does not work for most men. Men want to live for tomorrow. Men need goals, plans, causes, beliefs, structures, direction.
Most men will recognise that even a small act of selflessness – lifting a suitcase onto a luggage rack – leaves you with a sense of wellbeing it is hard to gain through other types of action….Men have an immense capacity for self-sacrifice. Not just a capacity, I would argue, a need.
For most of history, what it has meant to be a man has involved self-sacrifice.
Our fathers and grandfathers has institutions to cultivate their virtue for them: the Church…
So what is to be done? Join the army? Downshift to the country and become a lumberjack? Some things you can’t control: you can’t rustle up a morally bombproof cause like the defeat of fascism to fight for. You can’t start believing in a God whom you don’t think exists…And you don’t, of course, need to be a believer to live according to a moral code. Most surveys conclude that the devout are happier than the faithless. It’s not clear why that is…
I’d like to suggest that it is clear. Crampton is part way to finding the answer to the problem of men’s happiness. Men are driven by future vision. The vision we have held dear for more than a generation, of greater material wealth and a life of pleasure, has proved in the end to be a chasing after the wind. I wonder why we thought we knew better than the ancient wisdom in the book of Ecclesiastes:
Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labour. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
All Crampton has done is discover what another wise sage said a few millennia ago. But he has also stumbled upon what men are made to do. Man is made in the image of God. God’s nature is supremely revealed in the sacrifice of Christ. Christ has called all men to pick up their cross and follow him on the road of self-sacrifice for the good of others. The grand vision we need is in the bible. Men are called by Christ to work together in self sacrifice towards a global kingdom of peace under his leadership. The gospel contains both the vision of and the model for real masculinity.
And so we do need to be believers to by happy. But we need something, or rather someone, concrete to believe in and work with. Jesus Christ is that someone.
Titus 3:3-8 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.
See also: On being a happy nation