Column – Why Are We So Unhappy? 

Published 2:48 pm Friday, December 15, 2023

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Charles Qualls

“A pastor must have the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child and the skin of a rhinoceros.” Centuries ago, the great preacher Charles Spurgeon supposedly made that observation. Most pastors have easily understood why each might be important. 

The Church has for generations enabled poor behavior among its members by simply counseling pastors to “…have thicker skin.” Yes rather than deal with its own dysfunction, most congregations just tell the pastor to cope. 

However, in a post-Pandemic world the broader American society seems to be in a collective foul mood nowadays. Maybe you’ve noticed. Theories abound as to why. In its annual Survey of Consumers, the University of Michigan noted that the reality of economic inflation is that it has fallen to a manageable 3.1% as I write. 

Yes, the frustration of things simply costing more than they did a few years ago will linger. However, and this is the point, consumers have been conditioned to think things are actually still getting worse than they are. Data simply doesn’t support the pessimistic outlooks most people have. 

Harvard professor Arthur C. Brooks, a social scientist who studies happiness, says “There’s zero evidence that the world is worse or more dangerous than it’s ever been in the past, but we have more people telling us that if we’re not outraged and sad and angry, then we’re not paying attention.” 

Obviously, you or I might have our own anecdotal and individual counterpoint to that. Scholars, however, look at the bigger picture by clearly defined measures. An MSN article last week, according to its title, delved into “Why Americans Are More Bummed Than Ever.” 

Do you know what the common thread is generally? In a social media age, we are littered and oversaturated with supposed news that is skewing negatively. So if we are overconsuming, or interacting with friends and family who are overconsuming the wrong things, the world gets framed to be worse than it is. 

That is, the mental health effects especially upon children and teens has become a national concern. I would hasten to add that I am concerned for adults of all ages. Finding happiness and optimism is getting harder and harder. Stemming the tide of that momentum, and turning back from a mass bad mood, is complicated. 

By the way, the earlier mentioned Arthur Brooks didn’t suggest being oblivious to what’s happening in the world. He’s simply advocating for “more emphasis on what’s going on inside our heads and inside our houses and inside our families,” he said. “That’s going to go a long way towards making a happier country.”

In 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24, the apostle Paul voiced his hopes for people living together in a healthy community. His age, and his immediate world, had problems of their own.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” he said. “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.” This was at least his starting place. 

He went on to close with this thought. “May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely, and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.”

What’s that old saying? “A lie can travel all the way around the world before the truth ever gets its pants on.” Well, these researchers have noticed. Commercially, bad news sells far better than good news. Good news often gets buried. 

In a local community, those who want to instill fear and pull you over into their philosophical direction seem to speak up exponentially more than those who are peddling goodness. 

Bad news will make its way around the globe while good news so often just disappears. How could you and I start, right here, telling good news? How might we shine a quicker and more decisive light on what is, rather than in our grief spreading a skewed and stretched word of what isn’t? 

So, here I am with an Advent hope. Perhaps more than that, though, I am observing that we should demand better from each other. 

I’m also calling upon our news outlets to open a new year by digging deeper for good news. I’m challenging you and me to reject false narratives, paranoia and angry invectives. What say you?