How I Stopped Being a Happiness Skeptic
I confess: I only initially cared about the United Nation's International Day of Happiness—coming up on Thursday of this week—because the UN picked a pit bull as the "face" of the day for their commemorative stamps and brochure.
Any person, day, or global organization that recognizes that, to paraphrase Charles Schultz, happiness is indeed a warm pit bull gets not only my attention, but gets me up and applauding. I'm now super into this Happiness Day.
I confess that though I've long been an advocate for pit bulls, I've never been much of an advocate for happiness. I've actually spent much of the past decade or so fighting against the notion that happiness has any real value, that it offers anything useful beyond the immediate high. I've rebelled against the very American idea that its pursuit is worth paying any real heed. (Sorry, Founding Fathers.)
For instance, I've blamed happiness for my own sloth, saying that though I worked hard during my 20s, climbing magazine editorial ranks, I wrote very little in that decade because I was too darned happy to come up with anything meaningful. Life was swell! Who wants to write (or read) about that?
As a Christian, I've worried that pursuits of happiness take us straight away from pursuits of living as Jesus would have us live. In this world, we'll have trouble, Jesus tell us, not swell times. Focusing on that line alone, I've been a champion of sorrow and heartbreak—claiming they can do what happiness never could. Certainly, it took the ick and grit of my 30s, of hard relational and financial knocks to rework my soul, to deepen my faith and ultimately to rouse my angsty muse.
And I believe that 100 percent. Still.
So why now am I on board with the UN's happiness campaign? With its mission to recognize happiness as a "fundamental human goal" and seek "a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes... happiness and well-being of all peoples"?
At first, I figured the UN got the word wrong. I assumed what they were really celebrating was joy not happiness (a distinction we Christians love to make). After all, the campaign's poster dog, Macy, came out of a who-knows-what kind of hard-knock life, deemed "unadoptable," and relegated to "death row" at a shelter, before an angel of dog-mercy found her, fostered her, and then adopted her. Those kinds of stories—and the serene smile on Macy's face—are the kind of deep joy, not flitty, flighty happiness, as my friend Jennifer Grant would say. Macy's face reflects the joy that comes from a soul wandering through deserts and facing down death rows and coming through—battered but bettered. Blessed.
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