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Happiness Now!

We can grab hold of joy in this life, not just in heaven, says theologian Ellen Charry. A review of 'God and the Art of Happiness.'
Happiness Now!
Image: Illustration by Jonathan Bartlett

If you are a despondent American looking for a cure, the last place you'll find it is in the Christian section of your local Barnes & Noble. You may have better luck in a nearby section, where psychologists, billionaires, and Buddhist monks reveal the "source," "secret," or "path" to living a happy life, one that's eluded everyone but them. In recent months, Chris Guillebeau, blogger and self-avowed "fighter of the status quo," released The Art of Non-Conformity to remind readers to find happiness in remembering, "You don't have to live your life the way other people expect you to." Meanwhile, entrepreneur Michael Masterson published The Pledge, which teaches that happiness is about creating life goals and working toward them—regardless of the merits of said goals. And Sharon Salzberg, in Real Happiness, combines Buddhist principles and Western neuroscience to teach that meditation is "the door to real and accessible happiness," all in just 28 days.

Amid the philosophies of the day, what explains the relative dearth of Christian teaching on happiness? Are we too busy toiling away at good ministry to remember that in our Lord's presence is "fullness of joy," that at his right hand "are pleasures forevermore" (Ps. 16:11, ESV)? Do we even believe God wants us to be happy?

Ellen T. Charry says the Christian tradition has made room for happiness, but primarily in the next life, when believers will be united with God. In other words, the church has located happiness eschatologically—"any sorrow we face now pales in comparison to the joy that awaits." Charry, the Margaret W. Harmon Professor of Historical ...

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