Design for Happiness

You can be happy. Jesus said so, and he meant it. Twenty centuries of time have failed to disprove his plan for happiness and contentment. As a matter of fact, time has proved Jesus was correct. Jesus’ teachings for a happy, stable, adjusted life are reflected in much present-day psychology and psychiatry. His principles are being advocated today as though men have discovered something new.

design-for-happiness cover

Dr. William V. Myres wrote these words at the start of DESIGN FOR HAPPINESS, his classic 1961 treatise on the psychological principles utilized by Jesus Christ in The Sermon on the Mount. In this book, reissued for a new generation, Dr. Myres underscores the familiar passages of Christ’s message by making connections to important psychological truths. DESIGN FOR HAPPINESS reviews the Beatitudes and Jesus’s parables and explains the harmonies between Christ’s message and modern psychiatric principles, in clear, easy-to-understand language. “For hundreds and hundreds of years the Bible has been calling attention to psychological principles to make life more livable. Time has failed to improve upon the fundamental psychological conditions advocated by the man from Nazareth. No, the current terms are not found in the Bible, but the psychological principles of personal adjustment are there in abundance.”

DESIGN FOR HAPPINESS was originally published in 1961 by Broadman Press. It went out of print not too long after that. During the winter of 2013-14, Curtis Edmonds, Dr. Myres’s grandson and our CEO, was snowbound for several days and scanned his copy into his computer and formatted a new print edition and a first-ever Kindle edition, with this foreword:

William V. Myres was my maternal grandfather. He was born in Cleburne, Texas in 1915, and died at his home in North Richland Hills after a long illness. He served most of his life in various roles with what is now Dallas Baptist University. My father attended what was then Decatur Baptist College and had Dr. Myres as a professor, and then went on to marry his daughter.

I remember, from a young age, seeing DESIGN FOR HAPPINESS on a shelf in our house, and marveling that my grandfather had written a book. I didn’t know anyone else who had written a book; authors were a bit thin on the ground in the Texas suburb where I grew up. (My daughters know that their Daddy has written a book, and they are considerably less impressed by that knowledge than I was, so there you go.)
I wanted to bring out a new edition of DESIGN FOR HAPPINESS as a tribute to my grandfather. I am not sure that he would approve; you can read in its pages how he felt about egotism, and about gadgets. But I hope that he would have liked it, or at least that he would have appreciated that Jesus would be glorified, or at least explicated, in doing so.

DESIGN FOR HAPPINESS has been out of print for years. I don’t know what kind of readership it had when it was published by Broadman Press in 1961. The only mention I found about it in the newspapers of the day was a notice that the First Baptist Church of Port Neches, Texas had acquired a copy of the book for its library—along with, among other books, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. I re-read it while preparing it for electronic publication, and I would not be surprised if I was the only person in the last twenty years who has read it. And that’s a shame, because it’s quite a good book. The prose style is clear and uncluttered, with the occasional characteristic snort of annoyance I remember from him in my childhood. The theology is plain, unadorned, and direct. The text is blissfully free of irony, contempt, or the postmodern snark so common today. The author doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, but instead points to Jesus as the source for all answers. DESIGN FOR HAPPINESS is a humble sort of book, and is the better for it.

I have only two caveats to share about the book. The first is that I think DESIGN FOR HAPPINESS is a better theology book than a psychology book. Just to point out one example, I think that when Dr. Myres talks about abnormal fears, he was talking about the sort of ordinary, neurotic fears anyone might experience, and not feelings associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other similar psychological problems. The modern understanding of PTSD only dates back to the 1970’s, so it’s understandable that it’s not addressed in these pages. DESIGN FOR HAPPINESS isn’t a mental-health treatise, and shouldn’t be read that way, and I don’t know how congruent the book is with twenty-first century psychiatry. I believe that the principles behind the book are sound enough, but the psychiatry is certainly a little dated.

You wouldn’t be able to determine the second caveat from the book, so I need to tell you about it. My grandparents retired in the early 1980’s, and were finally able to follow their dreams of traveling across the country. They were driving up the Northern California coast when my grandfather experienced a severe stroke. He lived the last few years of his life bedridden, and often in severe discomfort.
One of the few inheritances I have from my grandfather is his copy of The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in which Bonhoeffer famously says, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” I think that it is equally true to say that Christ also calls us to come and suffer, and my grandfather suffered mightily.

DESIGN FOR HAPPINESS is a book about happiness, but it was written by a man who was not often very happy. Happiness is not a guarantee. Dr. Myres was not offering a guide on how to be happy, but instructions on how to follow Jesus in order to find complete happiness. He spent his life following Christ, as a preacher, as a teacher, and finally following Him in his suffering and death. “No healthy saint ever chooses suffering,” Oswald Chambers wrote. “He chooses God’s will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not.”

DESIGN FOR HAPPINESS is not a self-help book. It is does not provide a simple, easy-to-follow strategy that will ensure perfect happiness. It was written to point the reader towards a right relationship with Jesus, and to follow His will. It is my hope that publishing a new edition of this book helps, in some way, to bring people closer to His message. May God truly bless you, and thank you if you have read this far.

Curtis Douglas Edmonds
Duckthwacket, New Jersey
February 2014