Last spring The Intelligent Life, a journal published by The Economist, ran an article claiming that Americans are overall an "unhappy lot." Two years ago, The New York Times published "Liberated and Unhappy," about the diminishing degree of happiness among American women (Her.meneutics weighed in too). And recently I stumbled across the website for The Happiness Project, a book by Gretchen Rubin that shot to number two on the NYT bestseller list within its first week of publication last year. I am still dizzy from the swirl of quotes and tips on the website about how to pursue happiness and join in on booming nationwide happiness-projects. The amount of literature being penned on happiness suggests that as a culture we want to believe that happiness is something we can will and achieve, and that it is our inalienable right and our due. At times, I too am guilty as charged.
I cannot help reflecting on our cultural obsession with happiness against the backdrop of Easter, these 50 days of invitation to dwell in the reality of resurrection. If the church could claim to have an official "happy season," this would be it. Christ is risen. New life is possible in all circumstances. But, instead of the temptation to appropriate a Christian interpretation of a cultural phenomenon, perhaps the real place to begin is to consider that happiness may not be a word in our Christian vocabulary.
That's not to say Christians cannot experience happiness. Rather, we recognize happiness as transitory as opposed to a telos after which we earnestly seek. Reflecting on Scripture and the call to discipleship, the closest Christians might get to notions of happiness is by practicing the spiritual discipline of hope, something that looks remarkably ...1
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