Thursday, March 29, 2018

Read for fun (sort-of): Resisting Happiness.

"Resisting Happiness" by Matthew Kelly.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I agree with a lot of his stuff but not all of it, and in some cases I disagree more with his style and attitude than his content.

First of all, daily prayer. I agree with this. Just a couple minutes (it doesn't have to be ten) in the morning helps with focus and gratitude and stuff.  Helping out in the community is a good way to show Christian love, and being active during worship services is a good way to understand it more, and enjoy it more. I find myself in greatest agreement with the first couple of chapters.

These are direct to the topic of "resisting happiness" and why someone would do such a thing; literally happiness itself. It's about people choosing shallow happiness, (like some luxury) false happiness, (like a bad relationship), or convincing themselves they are happy when they are not, to avoid trouble instead of seeking true happiness. That stuff makes sense. Even the part where he says that no amount of accomplishments can make someone happy/no amount money can make someone happy, have a certain logic to them, even though the way he writes it makes it sound as though anything other than evangelizing is pointless. These are some of the things that I am more half-and-half on.

Another of them is the practice of offering-an-hour-of-work-as-prayer. On one hand, it sounds like something that can make one's daily labor feel more meaningful, but on the other hand, it sounds like the kind of empty ritual that non-theists mock. There's also a lot of talk about the need to be passionate and zealous in one's faith. It's like a backhand to those who are quietly devout. There's no need to make a show of it; "do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing" and all that. Then there's the stuff that I disagree with entirely.

There's one chapter (ch. 19) where Matthew Kelly talks about how being bored is a massive insult to God. In other words, it is a sin to be bored. He really says that; "to say we are bored at any moment in our lives is a massive insult to God" (page 98 in my paperback). This is not about sloth, i.e. laziness, but feeling the sensation of boredom. One can be plenty active and industrious etc. and still be bored. You can do selfless things for others and still be bored. This is a sin. It's hard to take him seriously when he says stuff like that. Which leads into my next point -  the frame narrative with his uncle.

I am suspicious of the non-fictional nature of the stories with his uncle. The book is basically presented as conversations he has with his uncle about things someone should do to be "happy" (which quickly turns into "develop a passionate and active inner spiritual life") and the aftermath of them. I find them to be too convenient. They act a frame narrative, starting chapters and providing content for the rest. Sure, one could say that the stories fit the book so well because the book is just a recording and extrapolation of the stories, but, from my perspective, there are problems with this view.
All the dialogue sounds too exact; was he writing this stuff down at the time? Despite "making more money than my teachers" (ch 6, page 29), Kelly acts like a stereotypical teenager, i.e. lacking the maturity to start and run several business (while in high school and still making time for sports and his girlfriend). He acts obstinate and/or snarky when his wise uncle suggests something, quickly caves in, and then realizes that his wise-and-nameless-uncle is right. A similar set-up was present in other self-help books that I have read and one is thought to be bogus (this book is also similar to the story of Siddhārtha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism).  It's a fine teaching method but there is a more fundamental problem.

This book talks about selflessness and the importance of doing God's will instead of thinking "my will be done", but all of this advice and all of these lessons etc. are geared toward making the reader happy.  This book is marketed by promising to make the reader happy. So even if they follow Matthew Kelly's advice, they are still accomplishing their own will anyway.

Finally, there's instances of him plugging himself and his organization, Dynamic Catholic. I understand that his experiences will come from his work and that he has a lot of stories and examples of the lessons in practical and concrete fashion, but the fact remains that he's advertising his seminars and his book publishing. He's even asking for donations through stories of a woman who buys his books so she can give them to others, and a man who thinks God made him talented at making money so he could donate it to Dynamic Catholic.

The below grade reflects both what I like about this book and what I don't like.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Resisting Happiness" a C+-

Click here for the next book review (a request): Song Hereafter

Click here for the previous book review (for fun): Magic, Magic, Everywhere

Brian Wilkerson is a freelance book reviewer, writing advice blogger and independent novelist. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

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