Some thoughts inspired by a friend’s notes on work. I mean work: this thing that makes you weary and sleepy, not just the fun thing where you play with interesting technical stuff all day long. I am currently in the interesting situation that I need only about 5 days a month to work for my material needs … and basically I’m happy that way. Not that I’d have much money, but I have no unsatisfied basic material needs. The rest of my time has to be spent on other things (sadly I do not know how to save time so that I can spend it later for other things … but, ok, working for excess money is something like that).

So, the question that arises in this situation is: what work is rewarding? And I mean work, this thing that … see above. Actually, I have no idea what kind of work would be rewarding in this world … as this world will pass away, and death renders all to be nothing. Somewhere in Ecclesiastes Solomon said something very similiar, and he hated life ’cause of that. Vanity!!!

It’s not that I would not have a vision for my life … see my post “My vision for my life, as of today“. But, umh, this kinda feels like something “nice to have”. It would not make me happy, I guess, just as anything you can have or reach. So it does not motivate me to really work for it.

Motivation for work must be a strong one, as a weak one is not sufficient to work until you’re k.o., and this for weeks, months, and years. Basic material needs serve such a motivation, but what after these have been met? As is the case with me?

What deemed Jesus “rewarding work” while on earth”? Travelling around and preaching the gospel, healing people. And I can imagine that he was quite k.o. on evenings, so this was work, really.

It’s not that I’d miss Jesus, food, friends, work or a vision for my life. All this is in place. But I miss the cognition that all this stuff is rewarding (… at some point in life I stopped to work for these goals that one by one turn out to be Fata Morgana, among them my profession). A cognition that is at least in part based upon observations, e.g. from what other people did and the reward they got. Or, lets put is thus: a cognition that is justifiably true. Not jst something you believe for pragmatic reasons: “because it works” for motivating you. You’re welcome to tell me: something rewarding to work for, and why it is rewarding, and why the cognition of this is justifiably true.

Start date: 2007-09-05

Version date: 2007-09-05 (for last meaningful change)

When searching for life as in this series of articles it’d be a good idea to know what life is. A major aspect is happiness. But what is happiness? I hereby invite you to share your definitions in the comments, and will give my own:

Happiness is that flavor of emotional well-being that is triggered at least by a perceived congruence of ones current situation and ones desired situation.

When assuming this definition, it leads to the following conclusions which (in my view) hold true in practice:

  • As an emotion, happiness is susceptible to deception: when the deception is erroneous, it can arise without reason or be missing though there is reason.
  • Happiness might be triggered by other things, but to define what kind of emotion is meant one trigger is mentioned in the definition.
  • Happiness is nothing one can obtain once and for all, but must be maintained moment by moment.
  • Happiness might be produced by changing ones situation, ones desires or ones perception of a situation.
  • Sorrows kill happiness.
  • Constant unhappiness is the average case. Because the “hedonic treadmill” means that ones desires for the situation tend to change constantly so that they are in the average case “ahead” of the current situation.
  • Constant happiness is only possible where one perceives a (basic) congruence between reality and wishes in every situation, i.e. basically wish to have the situation one is in, whatever it may be.
  • Faith can produce constant happiness. Because, believing that a beneficient higher instance (“god”) planned the current situation for one’s best makes it possible to desire exactly the current situation. Whatever it may be: the higher instance knows more than humans, wherefore it can be trusted that every current situation is good. In the case of a false faith, this happiness lasts until one finds out this falsity. In the case of a true faith (assuming here that there is one), this happiness is everlasting.

Start date: 2007-08-29

Version date: 2007-08-31 (for last meaningful change)

From time to time, I write down what is my long-term vision for my life. To own my “plan” in a compact form for reading, thinking about and sharing, and to document it and later find a development from version to version. Here is the version from today (2007-08-21). The driving question behind all these thoughts is: how to live an adequate answer to the world as I find it, that is, how to live a life that is not banal (see also my post “What ain’t banal” for that). So I plan to live an orchestrated combination of the following elements:

  • Mobile, international life. So to speak a “permanent world tour”. I simply see no reason why the “random” place where I was born should determine where I am or even stay. To me, freedom includes to be at home on the whole planet. Practically, I plan to use a 4×4 truck with box body as my default home while I am on this planet, and a fine-tuned equipment within it. The equipment is currently in late planning state; it will make it possible to move easily from the truck to a flat, tent or any other shelter, just as possibilities and needs are.
  • Community of 4-10 friends. Intentional community fascinates me for years now, though I have to admit that I’ve lost the focus on it during the last months. Community might take multiple styles, and to me what fits is this: a mobile community of 4-10 friends, which allows moderate fluctuation, and which will include people who want to be healed and mature in personality (all of us to some degree, actually …). Yes folks, mobile means all of you will live or at least travel in 4×4 trucks 🙂 Combining this community with working at universities in development countries and helping Christian congregations (see below) means that all of us will support this in some way or another.
  • Working as university teacher and researcher, mainly in development countries. I need to earn money to live and do nice things, but what this world really needs is just outside the economic system (i.e. Jesus is not for sale). So I’ll have to take a “serious” job. From all the jobs that fit my profile (nerd, computer geek), me thinks this is one of the less banal. I don’t want to work for the high-level problems of industrial countries, as they lose their meaning and justification in relation to the poverty and injustice in this world. Combining this with a mobile lifestyle means to travel between countries and universities, teaching for one or several semesters at each.
  • Missional life style. The idea to reach something “great” is hollow: great things can only be organizations, and organizations are nothing but an cumulation of individual “small” work. Plus the synergy, admitted. I thing there are enough organizations, one for every possible goal, and I’ll not add to this. Instead, a non-banal part of my life will be a missional lifestyle: building and using contacts to convince people of Jesus. Read on: this is not about religion. I’ll have to lay the personal non-religious foundations for this first … I won’t convince people of something where I’m not totally, absolutely and justifiably sure that it is the truth and nothing but the truth. The posts labeled “A Seeker’s Guide to Life” in this blog and a supposed-to-be book “Second Acts” serve this purpose of becoming justifiably sure … .
  • Stopping by to visit and help Christian congregations. This will be again a non-banal part of my life. Interesting enough, one could compare this kind of lifestyle with Paul’s who did this “tent-making” job, travelled around, lived a missional life style and visited (and founded) Christian congregations all around. And, when people like Luke travelled with him, he had also a mobile community, just as I long for!! Though my job will probably play a bigger role in my life than Pauls job did in his life, we as community will serve and help the congregations we meet, just as is possible. And when looking to Paul’s sweeping effect, I lose the fear my life might be ineffective this way … there’s the chance to be not, and it depends on God’s blessings.

Date: 2007-08-21

Last meaningful change: 2007-08-21

Is all of life banal? Me thinks it’s justified to ask so, as the non-banality is nowhere obvious at first glance. To find it, one should define it. I propose here the following definitions:

Each situation defines one or some actions as appropriate (or: wise, adequate, necessary, essential) answers to the situation. To act non-banally means to do this resp. one of these. To act banally means to do something different. So banal actions are those which miss the point, are secondary, are irrelevant.

It follows from this that actions are not banal, but tuples of situation and action are. For example: to party is mostly banal where one faces a significant relationship problem, but is non-banal where one realizes God’s blessings and wants to express one’s gratitude and joy. Another example: all of life is banal where one does something different from the purpose of living, which is, in my view, to live life in loving communion with God.

Some more observations. Equating appropriateness and non-banality serves an interesting understanding of some bible passages. Look here:

“(5) Behave wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of your time. (6) Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” [Col 4:5-6 ISV]

Wise is, as stated above, a synonym for “non-banal”. Because there is limited time, we need to act appropriately to the sad condition of the world we found it in. Which includes especially to live appropriately (i.e. inviting) in relation to those who are not yet Christians. And not to spend all of our life on private affairs, i.e. on a banal life, on irrlevevant activity in the context of a lost world. Note also that one’s action are limited by the available possibilities: one does not act banally if one does not help where one cannot. So banality is probably better determined by a triple (requirement,possibility,action), in this way: the difference between possibility and action, not between requirement and action, is a measure for banality.

“(29) This is what I mean, brothers: The time has been shortened. From now on, those who have wives should live as though they had none, (30) and those who mourn as though they did not mourn, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they did not own a thing, (31) and those who use the things in the world as though they were not dependent on them. For the world in its present form is passing away. (32) I want you to be free from concerns. An unmarried man is concerned about the affairs of the Lord, that is, about how he can please the Lord. (33) But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world, that is, about how he can please his wife, (34) and so his attention is divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the affairs of the Lord, so that she may be holy in body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world, that is, about how she can please her husband. (35) I’m saying this for your benefit, not to put a noose around your necks, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.” [I Cor 7:29-35 ISV]

Not that crying or rejoicing (both about worldly things), buying, using technology or marrying is a bad idea, or should or even could be really avoided. But living for one’s private worldly affairs only while there is so much important stuff available is simply banal. Important stuff includes one’s relationship to God, personal sanctification and a missional lifestyle (for the latter, that was the point in Col 4:5-6).

Date: 2007-08-19

Last meaningful change: 2007-08-21

Just a quick thought here: perhaps you know that the Jesus Freaks (German readers: better use Jesus Freaks at German Wikipedia) use Coca Cola and chips for the Lord’s supper. I once saw a video clip where one of them stood before a “church meeting” room in Hamburg, stating that they were going to hold the Lord’s supper with these, holdig up coke and chips, and saying: And why? Because Jesus back then used what was around; and so do we.
Today I stumbled across a Jesus Freak’s lively description how this feels in practice. Read it here (yet only in German, sorry):

“Spät abends wollte Anni und ich dann noch Abendmahl feiern, wir saßen dann außen allein und Anni schenkte uns Cola ein. Ich Hab nach etwas eßbarem gesucht und stellte fest, das wir noch Tost hatten von Caroline. Also aß ich den Belag und teilte das Brot doch leider mußte ich feststellen, das auf dem Brot Majo war. Es paßte nicht in unsere Selbsthilfe Gruppe und wir konnten es nicht mit unserem Gewissen Vereinbaren, da es sonst Heuchelei gewesen währe. Also aßen wir das Brot so ohne Abendmahl. Wir mußten die ganze Zeit lachen. Es war richtig schön.” (from Eulchen’s blog post “WE in Bad Brückenau”)

This makes it quite clear, doesn’t it? The freak style Lord’s supper to me is no expression of lacking reverence, as they are sensitive to conscience etc.. But it is (at least here) an expression of a remarkable desire to think about what Jesus did for us. Due to this desire, some improvisation becomes nesessary: using what’s around, in this case coke and toast. Are you with me here?

Date: 2007-08-20
Last meaningful change: 2007-08-20

The hedonic treadmill

Here is the basic assertion of our economy: the needs of human beings are infinite (… but the means to fulfill them are finite, so we have to be economical). Infinite needs are surely observable, but what’s the reason behind? From an evolutionist perspective it looks like this:

“And there are more anthropological constants: our emotional self-model makes it possible to consciously feel ourselves. It drives us forward in the steady attempt to feel good, to find emotional stability, protection and security. We are biological systems which are damned to search for happiness, which must try to feel as good as possible. But unfortunately, the reward system in our brain and our emotional self-model allow no stable kind of feeling good.

Admitted that especially the conscious self-models brought experiencing joy and happiness into the physical universe – to a place where these did not exist before. But psychological evolution did not optimize us for permanent happiness. On the contrary: it put us on the “hedonic treadmill“, which is driven by the permanent attempt to experience happiness and joy and to avoid pain and depression. But we also are kept in permanent motion: the hedonic treadmill – concretely the reward system in our brain – is the engine which mother nature built into us. We might discover its structure in ourselves, but it is unclear if we can ever get out of this treadmill. In some sense we are this structure. The Ego is the hedonic treadmill.”

[Thomas Metzinger: Der Preis der Selbsterkenntnis; in: Gehirn und Geist; 7-8/2006; S. 46; original in German; emphasis per original; hyperlink added to original]

We’re not interested in evolution here but in happiness: this guy thinks, permanent happiness cannot be found because the steady longing for happiness is the engine that drives all the people in this world with their lifestyle and “great achievements”. (By the way, if you need to know what’s a treadmill … .) It’s not that we want to live the way we do, but we’re driven by the search for happiness. And it’s not that we want to create, build, achieve something, but we’re again driven. Surely one finds the “hedonic treadmill” idea inspired and confirmed by so many experiences of private and public life.

Now, should we feel happy about working constantly (on “improving” circumstances) just to retain our level of happiness? That’s what the hedonic treadmill means. Up to a reasonable level of life quaity, the treadmill does a good job: it allows to feel happy while working on necessary improvements, i.e. to feel happier than “allowable” with respect to the amount of work done. And it enables humans to gain dominance over the rest of nature, which is not equipped with this treadmill thing. But after our basic needs are met, the treadmill thing should stop, and allow to do further improvements as creative freetime work, just for the fun of it, and just if one wishes to do so. But it does never stop, it has gone mad. It drives people further and further, stressing them with a desperate need for more happiness, for absolute happiness. But this need is never fulfilled, as it is not the idea behind the hedonic treadmill to produce this (but instead, to give motivation and reward while working on necessary improvements; any other use of the mechanism is actually abuse of this biological system).

Just, people seem not to realize this wrong direction of their search. They naively extrapolate that the “inner reward” they receive when reaching goals will be proportional to the goal reached, so try to reach goals that high that the reward remains for the rest of their life. Instead, the reward mechanism has a built-in fade-away mechanis, so that they can never stop to work though objectively possible after the basic needs have been met. It’s like having a job where one gets money only when beating one’s own record from yesterday … and that’s surely not happiness. Let’s envy the animals, which don’t have this treadmill thing and are happy without working for something beyond their basic needs. Where’s the way out?

Jesus about the hedonic treadmill

Me thinks that Jesus talks about the treadmill thing here:

“(24) ‘No man can work for two masters. He will hate one and love the other. Or he will obey one and despise the other. You cannot work for both God and money. (25) ‘So, I tell you this. Do not be troubled about what you will eat or drink to keep alive. Do not be troubled about what you will wear on your body. Life itself is worth more than food, and the body is worth more than clothes. (26) ‘Look at the birds that fly in the air. They do not plant or cut or keep any food. Yet your Father in heaven feeds them. Are you not worth more than birds? (27) Can any one of you live any longer by troubling yourself about these things? (28) And why are you troubled about clothes? See how the flowers grow in the fields. They do not work or make cloth. (29) I tell you, King Solomon was a great man. But he was not dressed as fine as one of these flowers. (30) God dresses the grass in the fields so it looks nice. It is in the field one day and the next day it is put on the fire. If God dresses the grass like that, he cares much more that you have clothes to wear. You do not believe in God very much! (31) ‘So then, do not keep asking, “What shall we eat?” “What shall we drink?” and “What shall we wear?” (32) It is the people who do not believe in God who work for all these things. Your Father in heaven knows that you need them all. (33) ‘Work first for God’s kingdom and what he calls good. Then you will have all these things also. (34) ‘So do not be troubling yourself about tomorrow. Tomorrow will have its own trouble. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’” [Matthew 24:24-34 BWE]

As an experiment, I interpret Jesus’ words here as pragmatical verbalization, i.e. immediately do-able. Then, I suppose the theoretical background is this: Jesus does not promise riches to those who “work first for the kingdom of God”. He talks about not searching our happiness in material things like luxurious meals and fine clothing, as this results in the unnecessary activity produced by the hedonic treadmill after the basic needs are met. Working for the basic needs is oll korrect, but serving materialism like a slave on a (hedonic) treadmill is not [Matthew 24:24 BWE]. Me thinks, Jesus even teaches that fulfillment of the basic needs is possible without conscious effort, i.e. we won’t realize this as a fatigue [Matthew 24:26,28,30 BWE]. Why do you reduce life to material stuff by caring for material stuff all your life? Realize that life is more than food (or other material stuff), as Jesus said [Matthew 24:25 BWE].

But staying away from the hedonic treadmill does not provide what you searched on it. So where to find permanent happiness? Let’s look closer at the following verse: “Work first for God’s kingdom and what he calls good. Then you will have all these things also.” [Matthew 24:33 BWE]. I think that this means primarily: “[…] then you will have happiness in the material world also, the very thing you searched when serving money, the very thing you searched on the hedonic treadmill”. In my view, it cannot mean that God will add all the clothes and riches of Solomon as immediate gifts, as e.g. Paul did not experience this (we will look at this below). But the need for happiness is fulfilled, and that is the thing searched for. And how or when is this need fulfilled? When one is “first […] concerned about God’s kingdom and his righteousness” [Matthew 24:33 ISV]. This is exactly what (who …) we need for our materially unfulfilled need: God. A relationship to God, where one experiences God’s love for humans and expresses love for God by a straight life according to his will. And how exactly does a relationship with God make us permanently happy? Lets o further …

The autarky escape

I stumbled over Paul’s approach to happy practical living, which is quite interesting. He seems to have internalized what Jesus said about sorrows (see above). Let’s read what he writes:

“(10) The Lord made me very happy to know that you were thinking about me again. Yes, I know you were thinking of me before, but you had no way to help me. (11) I do not mean that I needed it. I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. I am happy with whatever happens to me. (12) I know how to live when I am poor, and I know how to live when I am rich. No matter how things are, I have learned how to live: when I have plenty of food, or when I am hungry; when I have more things than I need, and when I do not have enough. (13) I can do all things because Christ gives me strength.” [Philippians 4:10-13 BWE]

You might want to read the wider context: Philippians 4:10-19 BWE. (And if you clicked the references and arrived at verse 9: these references are correct but the verse scheme at is shifted by mistake.) In Greek, Paul states that he learned to be satisfied whith what he has like this:

“ουχ οτι καθ υστερησιν λεγω εγω γαρ εμαθον εν οις ειμι αυταρκης ειναι” [Philippians 4:11 TR]

A word-by-word translation would be like “Not that with respect to want I say this; because I learned, in whatsoever I am, to be content.”. The word translated “content” is “αυταρκης” (transliterates “autarkes”). It comes from “αυτος” (autos), meaning “self”, and “αρκεω” (arkeo), meaning “to be sufficient”, “to be enough”, or literally “to ward off”. So together it means “self-sufficient”, and indeed this is where the word “autarky” comes from.

Perhaps Paul would accept the following variations to describe his condition:

  • I am self-sufficient, which means that my happiness depends on what is in myself rather than on what comes to myself from the outer circumstances. And in myself is Christ with his strength, resp. my relationship to him which does not depend on material circumstances.
  • I have learned that the material world with all its lack and abundance will vanish, but I know and experienced what is eternal: God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and my company with them. See also what I wrote in I Corinthians 7:29-31 BWE.
  • I have learned how to deal with every situation. Which means, there was a time when I was not able to be happy instead of poverty and instead of richness, but I was trained to be.
  • I am content within every situation. This does not mean that I would be content if there’d be nothing at all and I’d be starving to death. Instead, God knows what I need, and supplies this for me. Some people will be surprised that God does not prevent me from bing poor at times, but I’m no longer surprised. Because what we call poverty also is a situation that has enough good things in it to be content with. I had to learn to see and use these goods and I did learn it.
  • God’s supply means I’ll never enter a situation where there objectively is less than I need (not: wish) to be content with.
  • The key is to basically think the present situation to be worth living (at least potentially or latently). With this premise, one will care about adapting, furnishing and customizing the situation, according to one’s abilities, and indeed arrive at something worth living. This is a situation of “conformance with one’s goals and wishes”, which is the very definition of happiness. If one instead wishes to escape the whole situation, one tries something beyond one’s abilities, which means that one’s practical life is no longer in conformance with one’s goals and wishes, which means unhappiness.

Paul that that he had to learn to be happy in all situations. Which means one has to know some things and get some training to do so. What, for example, does one have to learn to be content in poverty?

  • Create no plans how to escape from your present situation. You’d just see them fail (and get frustrated) because poverty means you have not the resources to escape.
  • Take good care to discover all the available resources and beneficient peculiarities of your situation, and use these with a creative mind to their fullest.
  • Wish just what you can achieve with the present resources, and think carefully about what can be achieved with the present resources. This is plenty of stuff, as “best things in life are free”.
  • Await a change of the situation from the outside, i.e. look out for open doors to walk through. That is, use very moderate force to search for open doors, but do not try with full force to break doors open. You wouldn’t succeed or would choose the wrong door, and you would get stressed and exhausted, anything far from being happy.


  • Important: Paul talks only about the missing correlation between his money and his happiness; in this context “I am happy with whatever happens to me.” (Phil 4:11 BWE) does not mean “really all” as this would consequently say that Paul would be happy in hell as well. So one should not blindly extrapolatethese words to friends and social needs as well.
  • Did Paul expect a change of his poor situation? Perhaps it was really really equal to him (Phil 4:10-11)?
  • Verbalize the insights here as the difference between top-down life (the idealistic approach that comes from (thinking about) the ideal) and bottom-up life (the pragmatic approach to the ideal).
  • Add examples how the “hedonic treadmill” idea is confirmed by life’s experiences (par. 5): “While private life is private, we might look at some publicly visible persons: […]”, then insert here 5-10 stories of tragic persons of public life who searched for money, love and might.

Date: 2007-08-14
Last meaningful change: 2007-08-19

Christians seem to be well-accepted on practical grounds while their faith is ignored. Theres nothing bad and no harm they do to others; they do good things; they are honest; they work diligently. Sadly, all this does not make many people think about their destiny … instead, people are tempted to exploit the goodwill of Christians. How to be different? How to live in a way that questions people’s whole system of values and beliefs, that shakes their world?