TGIF: Tolstoy and the Arrival Fallacy

June 14, 2019


As many of you know one of my favourite podcasts is released every two weeks by Mockingbird Ministries ( called The Mockingcast.  It is a few young church nerds like me talking about why they love Jesus and what is wrong with and beautiful about the church.

This week’s episode is called, “Pelagian Privilege” and if you are intrigued by what I write here, definitely have a listen.


What I am Thinking About

 On the podcast this week,  the hosts were discussing the Arrival Fallacy – that “illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness.”[1]  The discussion came out of an article in the New York Times this week entitled “You Accomplished Something Great.  So Now What?” where the one who coined the phrase explains why so many accomplished folks struggle with mental health and substance abuse issues.  “These individuals start out unhappy, but they say to themselves, ‘It’s O.K. because when I make it, then I’ll be happy,’” he said. But then they make it, and while they may feel briefly fulfilled, the feeling doesn’t last. “This time, they’re unhappy, but more than that they’re unhappy without hope,” he explained. “Because before they lived under the illusion — well, the false hope — that once they make it, then they’ll be happy.”

It is an interesting time we live in – where we are told that we can accomplish whatever we set our minds to and work hard enough for while also being told to stop and enjoy each moment.  Set goals!  Strive for them!  Work hard!  Stop!  Smell the roses!  But be efficient!  Don’t waste your time!  Why are you so busy all the time?  Don’t you care about yourself?  Slow down!  But get lots done!

It doesn’t make any sense and it doesn’t work.  And it is completely counter to our Christian narrative (not to mention the realities of life).  We actually can’t accomplish whatever we set out minds to, and accomplishment is neither the goal of life (or ought not be) nor the root cause of happiness.

 It brings me back to grace – that beautiful love of God that we can’t earn or ruin.  There is no amount of wonderful or terrible things I can do to interfere with the love that God has for me.  *phew*


What I am Grateful For

I don’t always love technology and our ability to be connected all the time – sometimes, if left unchecked, it becomes an escape hatch, a gateway to a place of disconnect for me, and I have to watch myself with it.  But this week, I am feeling grateful for the opportunities it affords me.  Podcasts are a great example of this – I love music, and I love the news, but this week neither one has been helpful for my wellness.  Enter the podcast – a tool for listening in on the brainwaves of others reflecting on things that I care about, in careful, thoughtful, and engaging ways.  Understanding the privilege I hold in having a phone to download them to and places to get to where they have my attention along the way (via car, bike, or foot), I have gratitude for those who I can allow to speak into my life that, without technology, would not form and shape me in unexpected ways.


What Inspires Me

In the podcast, one of the hosts shares about Leo Tolstoy from Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac and his journey past success and into faith:

“[Leo Tolstoy] was 52 years old, and his two greatest novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), were behind him. He had found himself in a crisis—he was famous, had a family and land and money, but it all seemed empty. He was unable to write, had trouble sleeping, contemplated suicide. He read the great philosophers, but found holes in all of their arguments. He was amazed that the majority of ordinary Russians managed to keep themselves going every day, and he finally decided that it must be their faith. From there, it was a short time until Tolstoy took a walk in the woods and found God. He wrote: “At the thought of God, happy waves of life welled up inside me. Everything came alive, took on meaning. The moment I thought I knew God, I lived. But the moment I forgot him, the moment I stopped believing, I also stopped living.”

I love stories like this, where our self-centered illusions are broken down, making space for the Divine. I could read or listen to them all day.


How I am Practicing My Faith

Ultimately in the podcast the hosts reveal what the best indicator of happiness is (after a long while discussing that it is not success): connection.  The happiest people are those who spend the most time with people they care about.  Maybe that is why I love church so much – the connection, the community, the love.  So tonight we will gather for our second Friday Feast and I will practice my faith by showing up, building community, and eating delicious food.   Not because it is another accomplishment, not because it will further my career, not because it will earn lots of $, but precisely because it won’t do those things.  It is just about relating to others, sharing, and not being productive except in the way that matters the most.

[1] Tal Ben-Shahar, Harvard-trained positive psychology expert credited with coining the term Arrival Fallacy.