The surprise of its message caught my eye: The Wall Street Journal was reporting on “Ten Things Baby Boomers Won’t Tell You,” and item # 6 stood out for me: “We’re Unhappy…” The article went on to say that Boomers (the Employee Benefit Research Institute defines this group as born between 1948 and 1954) are the least happy of all age groups, according to a study published in 2008 in the American Sociological Review Journal. Author Yang declared that the “group was so large, and their expectations so great,” that a sizable number of people couldn’t get what they wanted. The Pew Research Center, to add dimension to the issue, reported that this age group had been “consistently less happy than other generations” for over 20 years….
What is the “secret” of happiness, and how illusive is it? The recent issue of Psychology Today (Aug. 2013) reversed an answer to the question by studying “what happy people do differently.” One assumption in the dialogue was that “craving happiness” or trying to pursue it as an end in itself is a “slippery slope” (p.54, Kashdan and Diener). Albert Schweitzer is reported to have jested once that “happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.” Several studies indicate that interest in happiness is a global pursuit (Diener and Oishi), and that people from all walks of life seem to value it above wealth, finding meaning in life (!), and life after life. (Residents of Panama and Paraguay, BTW, report the highest percentage of “feeling positive” –85%.)
Happiness lasts longer than a run of dopamine, so we know it’s not just an emotional “high.” Christians do better to speak of “joy” than happiness, and it involves a sense of inner peace and contentment. Perhaps surprisingly, happiness emerges not so much from a regular experience of positive events only, but from how we interpret both the positive and the negative experiences we have. Two variables that make a difference in maintaining this coveted characteristic: (1) If we expect both positive and negative experiences in life, and interpret them as challenges to conquer, and (2) if we carefully choose to take some worthwhile risks in life, as opposed to living always in our “comfort zone,” we will more likely have encounters with “being happy” and “finding joy.”