Doug asks me if I am happy. That’s not an easy question to answer; a simple “yes” or “no” does not suffice. For one thing, I have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Other those conditions are under control, relatively speaking, they have not gone away or disappeared. I even wrote a book about being Christian and facing those symptoms. Add to that the fact that I am a Chicago sports fan, suffering through unsatisfactory seasons from the Cubs and Bears and Bulls, and “happy” is not likely to be the first word that comes to mind.
Part of my temperament is existential angst. I am an imperfect person living in an imperfect world. Put into theological terms, I am a sinner living in a sin-polluted world. I know by faith that Christ has defeated all evil and death, that he shares his victory with those who trust in him, and that I have been claimed for his kingdom. From those assurances, I receive inner joy and inner peace. Those qualities do not erase symptoms of anxiety and depression; they do not bring about happiness on the surface. The existential perspective suggests that anyone who can be happy all the time in this mixed-up world must be delusional, or at the very least unaware of the things that are happening around us. We all have passing pleasures and delights. Converting them into lasting happiness requires a shallow personality which I do not possess.
Since ancient times, philosophers have said that happiness is the goal of human existence. Socrates and Confucius both offered philosophical approaches to achieving a happy life. Some schools of philosophy, such as the Greek and Roman Stoics and the Buddhists, have said that happiness comes from nonattachment to the world, not basing happiness on anything outside of ourselves, but being apathetic toward the surrounding world. Others recommend maximizing the enjoyment of what is good and minimizing the agony of what is bad—maintaining a positive mental attitude, looking for the bright side of life, seeking the silver lining of every cloud, and viewing the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. While these approaches are effective for some people, they leave others exhausting, struggling to achieve happiness, portraying themselves as cheerful rather than being honest about their feelings, and denying their friends and family the opportunity to support them in their times of need.
Respect for our neighbors (and for our own well-being) suggests that we be honest with others about our feelings. At the same time, we do not want to be a burden to others. We do not want our gloom to darken their days. We do not want to rain on their parade. We do not want, whenever we enter a room, to have people looking around and asking each other, “Who just left?”
Am I happy? Sorry, Doug, but there’s no hands clapping in my corner. Yet I would not say that I am unhappy. Like everyone else, I’m taking the bad with the good, the raisins with the chocolate chips, the rainy days with the sunny days. And a few more rainy days this summer might be needed for the long-term health of the lawn, the garden, and the nearby farms. J.