It was not my intention to take two whole days off of blogging. Several bad things happened to thwart my regular writing habits (and podcasting ones). First of all, the cat has decided that the best time for me to wake up in the morning is three—not four, not five—but three. She likes first to greet, to say hi as it were. Then she likes to walk up and down and check on all the things I have on my shelves to see if they are still there, or if there is anything that needs to be pushed down onto the ground. Then she likes to drink some of the milk I have thoughtfully provided for myself for the early morning when I drink an entire pot of strong black tea trying to wake up after the horrors of the night. Then she walks back and forth some more so that I will finally roll onto my back so that she can spend the rest of the night on my chest, staring into my face, poking her whiskers into my delicate flesh whenever it looks like I might be going to sleep.
Second of all, I started reading this and never managed to stop reading it to write anything because it was so appallingly long. And third, the kids were supposed to be doing finals, and you know how that goes.
I guess the most shocking thing to me is that my superhuman blogging abilities seem occasionally to be slipping. Is this a sign that I am mortal? Perish the thought! The One Thing I always do is blog!. But there are a lot of other things, like exercise, pushing children through school, zoom morning prayer, petting the cat. These things have mostly always been there, the difference is that I appear to be getting older and less able just to push through, or maybe it’s only the cat.
Anyway, enough about that. That long—ridiculously long—article was so interesting. I think the case is stated a bit too much, too conspiratorially, but there were bits that I thought must certainly be true. Like this:
In this new era, life’s little annoyances and minor discomforts form the ever-present baseline. Then come the ills of life that are more structural and have worsened over time. There is the mass loneliness problem, which affects roughly 60% of Americans. There is the sex problem, as fewer Americans are having sex these days. There is the marriage problem, as some women drawn into the workforce have difficulty finding compatible men, while some men fear a charge of sexual harassment if they show a romantic interest in women. There is the political-correctness problem, with two-thirds of Americans afraid to speak freely; this causes them to feel stifled and unhappy.
A breakdown in our social systems has given rise to mass unhappiness while also making unhappiness more difficult to cope with. When this unhappiness passes into anger, and then into malice and terror, it becomes a matter of public concern. Over half of the country’s worst mass shootings have occurred in the past 20 years, with their rates accelerating in the last decade. Anger also finds expression in radical political ideologies and violent protest. Even without morphing into anger, unhappiness arising from social isolation affects people’s health, which has already led to an increase in the nation’s medical costs. To manage the situation, policymakers have pinned their hopes on the “caring industry” — the nation’s social workers, psychologists, counselors, therapists, and life coaches.
And finally this:
Americans tend to prefer quick solutions to their everyday unhappiness, yet they also want to believe that science stands behind those solutions. Thanks to their advanced education, clinical psychologists provide this all-important link between scientific theory and medical practice. Although many clinical psychologists go into private practice after their training, a few remain at the university, where they cultivate theory for its own sake — meditating on visionary speculations and writing long and learned demonstrations of them. Though laypeople rarely read this literature, its mere presence lets them imagine their abbreviated therapy is an application of true science.
As I said, the whole thing was so fascinating, especially to be able to see that we ourselves are living through this shift, rather than observing it only a hundred years later. Calling a medical professional to help me with my happiness level still does not occur to me. My first line of defense is prayer, eating badly, realizing that was stupid, taking a walk, going to church, and generally muddling along as best I can and have always done. But I have noticed that I am quicker to suggest the medical-industrial complex to other people when they are unhappy. “Have you thought about seeing someone?” I have said a lot of times. But I say it with increasing trepidation, as people I know and love go off to see counselors and come back letting the drips and drabs of the new way of considering the self inadvertently filter back to me in throwaway remarks and even real damage control afterward. Christian Counselors, more and more, I find to be an anxiety-inducing lot. What do they mean by Christian? Will they recommend divorce right out of the gate? Without listening with a careful and biblically tuned ear (as has happened sort of recently)? Or will it just be a muddle of psychology with a sort of vague shellac of Jesus lathered over the top?
And then, when you go into the world of life-coaching, which the article eventually gets to, my goodness. There are a ton of Christian life coaches out there for whom the Christian part is only a lot of Richard Rohr/Enneagram thoughts and prayers jumbled together with the Boundaries Book (great book though) and some thoughts and feelings about Jesus. In other words, not really very Christian.
What I wish is that ordinary Christian people would first radically lower their expectations of what daily life should be like. Life is hard, that’s what Jesus promised. Hard and painful, and sometimes short. And disappointing. And the second thing is that the more you examine your own happiness the worse it gets. You can’t be happy by trying to be happy. You can only really be happy by getting to know Jesus who has a real personality, who has real power to make himself known to you. But again, the promise of a life with Jesus isn’t for happiness, and I do think that too many Christians think that it is, and then are so disappointed when they discover that they go on depressed and disappointed year after year. Anyway, I have so much more I would love to say about this, but I have got to go and do something else—can’t even remember what, maybe it was to pet the cat again.