Irresistible cuteness, in pictures and videos online, is overwhelming America, says Jim Windolf in December's Vanity Fair. Office workers gather around YouTube videos of toddler antics, the Mini-Cooper has been out-cuted by the Smart Car, and the website Cute Overload (filled with pictures of puppies, kitties, and bunnies) gets 100,000 hits a day.

Part of this new addiction is as ancient as our human nature, Windolf writes. Ethologist Konrad Lorenz proposed in the 1940s that we naturally want to care for any small, vulnerable creature. "Lorenz suggested that infantile characteristics—big head, big eyes, the very round face—stimulate caretaking behavior," Marina Cords, a professor of ecology, evolution, and environmental biology at Columbia University, told Windolf.

Then why, if we've always been attracted to adorable infants, is the cuteness craze gaining ground now?

Part of it is certainly the accessibility. Thousands of websites and e-mail forwards offer the goods. Bored with a work project or with doing laundry? Pop onto the Internet or your phone for a quick pick-me-up.

Another part of it, according to Windolf, may be our collective unhappiness—lengthy wars on two fronts and a struggling economy. He points to Japan, where he says cuteness took hold in the post-war 1940s and 1950s, influenced heavily by Disney's Bambi and Fantasia. Now big-eyed, infantile anime characters can be found almost everywhere in Japan, from airplanes to condoms to ATM cards (and, as Her.meneutics blogger Lisa Graham McMinn covered, on body pillows made to look like young girls). "Cuteness in Japanese culture" even has its own Wikipedia entry.

Cuteness as an antidote to social unhappiness—there's something to that. Photos of cute things—a kitten frolicking in a field of flowers, a toddler dancing, a pair of puppies cuddling—are comforting, and give us a moment to escape, to be where all is right with the world. Like happy endings, they let us breathe a sigh of relief that for someone, somewhere, things are working out perfectly.

And we crave those moments more when life around us is dark or uncertain. For example, I am a voracious reader, and normally I appreciate books that tell a good story or raise significant points, even if they don't end with the main characters riding happily into the sunset. But when I am worried or dejected, I crave a moment of light, of beauty, even of cuteness. I want my movies to end happily, my books to be resolved to my satisfaction. I want to feel that life is working out for somebody, even if that somebody is fictional, since it doesn't seem to be working out for me.

I don't think there is anything wrong with a desire for happy endings. A breath of joy, even from something as insubstantial as an image of a baby chick, is still a breath of joy. What we need to remember, of course, is that it is a temporary fix. A better option is available to us: a prayer, a Bible verse, a quiet moment remembering who is in control. The peace from such moments lasts longer, and works more deeply in us, than a baby laughing or a panda sneezing.

Of course, our God is the Creator of puppies, too. And kittens. And laughing babies, and dancing toddlers. Go ahead and enjoy them—remembering that he is the real source of our joy.