The Forbidden Sea: Happiness or Meaning?By: Bruce
This post is some thoughts from having read The Forbidden Sea. While I avoid giving specific story details, just mentioning the themes does potentially give spoilers. So please consider reading the book before you read this post.
In a review of Sheila Nielson’s (my sister) book, The Forbidden Sea, over at M* I mentioned that the book impressed me because it challenged our notions of what we want out of life. This is a subject that is of significant interest to me.
So what do we want out of life?
Ask someone to come up with an off the cuff answer and you’ll probably generally find that people believe we want happiness. Certainly ‘happiness’ is a good pat answer to this question. But then I’d want to know what ‘happiness’ is. And that might be a more difficult question.
In the realms of fiction, the idea that we want ‘happiness’ out of life has been challenged many times. Star Trek alone has probably redone the ‘we don’t really want happiness’ theme probably 10 or more times across all series and movies. Brave New World chilled me with how scary and pointless perfect happiness can be. Fiction seems to be an ideal outlet to explore this idea.
But if we don’t want happiness out of life, then what is it that we want?
C.S. Lewis suggested that joy and happiness were not the same thing. After reading The Forbidden Sea (and other thematically related stories), I’m starting to agree.
In The Forbidden Sea our heroine lives an unhappy life. Nothing seems to go right for her and it just keeps getting worse. But then something fantastic occurs – this is the “Forbidden Sea” portion of the story — that rips her out of her unhappy life and promises the potential of giving her immense happiness.
The story helped me solidify something that I had already been wondering about: might it not be that what we want out of life isn’t happiness, but meaning. And might it not be that meaning can only come through suffering — particularly from choosing to suffer when it could have been avoided for the sake of someone else. Is this not the concept of taking up one’s cross: a choice to suffer for another’s sake – be it God or our neighbor? (Luke 9:23)
So here are some questions that come to mind that I offer up for discussion:
- Are joy and happiness the same thing? (A Warning to Word Police: Yes, they can mean the same thing at times. But do they really carry exactly the same connotations in all cases? If not, what are the differences?)
- What is the relationship between love and happiness? Is it a cause effect relationship (love causes happiness) or is it more of an Escher-like loop?
- If joy and happiness aren’t the same thing, then what is the relationship between love and joy?
- If you had a chance to find happiness, but you had to leave your loved ones behind (though with the potential to make new ones) would you choose to do it?
- What is the relationship between ‘meaning’ and happiness? Is there a relationship? What is the relationship between ‘meaning’ and joy?
- More to the point, what is the relationship between ‘meaning’ and ‘suffering?’
- Is there maybe even a relationship between ‘meaning’ and ‘joy’ and therefore ‘suffering’ and ‘joy’?
- Which do we really want out of life, happiness or meaning?