You Can’t Buy The Good Life

Posted by Adam Christensen

I’ve been reading Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place. So far, I love it. It is easy to see which sections of the book I’ve read because they are so customized by my underlining and note-taking that the text looks like a four year-old has been coloring on it.

Here, I’d like to share a portion I find particularly appropriate during the Christmas/Advent season. It comes from the book’s opening chapter; Oldenburg carefully describes the “problem of place in America”. He postulates that we lack shared, informal, and communal space. There are no longer true neighborhood bars, drug stores, and other walkable, regularly-visited social environments. These places exist outside of the states, but here in our American Dream, we’ve stumbled into a socio-communal nightmare. Add to this our American belief that our social demands and ills can be cured individualistically and through consumerism, and Oldenburg rightly comes to the conclusion that, “Our mode of life… is emerging as today’s principle cause of illness.”

Oldenburg suggests that this “mode of.. life that has become our principal cause of illness resembles a pressure cooker without its essential safety valve.” And that collectively, “our… environment is like an engine that runs hot because it was designed without a cooling system.”

His metaphors illustrate the severity of the problem, which are also the barriers to a solution:

Unfortunately, opinion leans toward the view that the causes of stress are social but the cures are individual. It is widely assumed that high levels of stress are an unavoidable condition of modern life, that these are built into the social system, and that one must get outside the system to find relief. Even our efforts at entertaining and being entertained tend toward the competitive and stressful. We come dangerously close to the notion that one “gets sick” in the world beyond one’s domicile and one “gets well” by retreating from it. Thus, while Germans relax amid the rousing company of the bier garten or the French recuperate in their animated little bistros, Americans turn to massaging, jogging, hot-tubbing, or escape fiction. While others take full advantage of their freedom to associate, we glorify our freedom not to associate.

The section crests with his major hypothesis:

In the United States, about two-thirds of the GNP is based on personal consumption expenditures.

…leisure has been perverted into consumption.

…but the development of an informal public life depends upon people finding and enjoying one another outside of the cash nexus.

(People are convinced) that the good life can be individually purchased.

Are you convinced that you can buy the life you want, buy your way into health, and do both as an individual? God created you for community. You cannot do it alone. God also created you to know him. That’s where you’ll find the joy, peace, and satisfaction that you’re looking for. The American Dream won’t satisfy you; your home won’t satisfy you; escape, sleep, jogging, the new tele’, none will satisfy you. During this Advent season, I encourage you, chase Jesus rather than presents and materialistic balm(s), and please, chase after him with other people.

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