Why Are Americans So Unhappy?

Every recent poll agrees, American optimism is dying.

When asked if “life for our children’s generation will be better than it has been for us,” fully 76 percent said they do not have such confidence. Only 21 percent did. That was the worst ever recorded in the poll; in 2001, 49 percent were confident and 43 percent not.

And it’s not confined to one group either. The rich are as down as the poor, women are as down as men, blacks are as down as whites. Young people are only slightly less depressed than the old. Democrats are marginally happier than grumpy Republicans. Dana Milbank concludes:

The gloom goes beyond wealth, gender, race, region, age and ideology. This fractious nation is united by one thing: lost faith in the United States.

Even with the economy recovering, albeit slowly, the pessimism endures. Numerous pundits have weighed in with their analysis. Dana Milbank puts it down partly to income inequality (which I think is a euphemism for envy), but mainly to a complete breakdown of people’s faith in the political system to do anything constructive about the problems facing society.

The New York Mag blames the torrent of bad news the media is feeding us 24/7 producing a widespread sense that the world is falling apart.

The Wall Street Journal points to five factors:

  1. We are in lousy health with an epidemic of obesity.
  2. Stress due to health problems or overwhelming responsibilities.
  3. The lifestyles of the rich and famous are making us jealous.
  4. Our wages are stagnant
  5. We work too much, far more than most other nations.

So, any hope of smiley faces in the midst of so much doom and gloom?

Redefined Happiness
There are three things that have to change if we are to regain our smiles. First, we need to re-define happiness. As I’ve written elsewhere, the founding fathers of America had a very different view of happiness to most people today.

In his 2005 lecture at the National Conference on Citizenship, US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said that for the framers of the Declaration of Independence, “Happiness meant that feeling of self-worth and dignity you acquire by contributing to your community and to its civic life.”

That’s so different to the kind of temporary and shallow pleasure-based view of happiness that’s so widespread today.

Active Happiness
Second, it’s going to take hard work. Happiness rarely lands on our plates, dropped there by the government, our boss, or God. No, happiness is a “pursuit,” meaning it requires hard work - hard mental work, hard physical work, hard spiritual work.

If you look at the majority of the causes highlighted by the analysts, you’ll see that they blame external factors for our unhappiness. But if my happiness is dependent on events outside my control, then there’s nothing I can do about my emotional state. I just become a passive fatalist. What will be will be.

But if I’m told that I’m responsible for pursuing happiness even in the midst of so many storm clouds out there, that gets me motivated and active.

Spiritual Happiness
Christians have a big opportunity here to shine in the midst of the darkness. And we can do that not just with the light of biblical knowledge but with the light of biblical joy – which will get us a better hearing for biblical truth. We need to show that happiness, true spiritual happiness, can be enjoyed independently of uncontrollable events, trends, and changes in the world and in our personal lives.

Remember, Philippians, the Epistle of joy, was written from a prison. And so much of that joy was rooted in contentment (Phil. 4:11), which is in incredibly short supply judging by these media reports.

Happy Theology
But how, how, how do we do it? The same way as Paul did it; with happy theology. Consider this small sample of happy truths, truths that are true regardless of whats going on in our lives and our world:

  • We love and are loved by the one true and living God.
  • We know Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
  • Our sins are forgiven.
  • We are justified and adopted into God’s world-wide and heaven-wide family.
  • Everything is working together for our good.
  • The Holy Spirit is sanctifying and empowering us.
  • We have all the promises of God.
  • Jesus has prepared a place for us in heaven and will welcome us there.

What truths have you found keep your spirits up in this depressing world?

Coming Alongside a Depressed Person

In this video, Christian counselor, Dr. Emilie DeYoung, talks about the first step in the road to recovery for a depressed person – coming alongside them.

You can see other short FAQ videos from the Christians Get Depressed Too video series here or view five feature length documentaries here.

You Don’t Have A Porn Problem

I’m sick and tired of hearing so many single and married men, even professing Christian men, talk so easily, casually, and nonchalantly about their “porn problem” or their “struggles with pornography.”

Porn use has become so common and “normal” that there’s not an ounce of stigma left in it. In fact, “confessing” your latest “fall” has become a fast-track to guaranteed sympathy, an arm round the shoulder, “Hey, none of us are perfect,” “Well, maybe we should think about tightening up accountability here and there…”

What happened to the “Yuk!” factor?

How about this for an alternative?

“What? You look at other people’s penises and vaginas in your spare time? For pleasure?”

I regret I have to be so coarse, but we need to do something to restore the shame and disgrace of this evil.

In fact, let’s go a bit further.

How about the next time some married or single Christian man (or woman) ambles up to you for a friendly chat about his (or her) “porn problem,” you reply, “You don’t have a porn problem! No, you have a masturbation problem.”

“Oh, pastor, don’t be so crude.”

“So it’s crude to say it, but not to do it?”

“Well, er…”

“By saying ‘I’m struggling with porn’ you are excusing yourself. You are blaming some distant pictures and pixels out there. But that’s just a means to an end. The real problem is not porn. It’s much closer to home. It’s between your legs.

I could go on. I could get even more descriptive and graphic – using just medical terminology of course. Or, I could use some words I learned on the streets of Glasgow. But for the purposes of this blog post, let’s keep it within the realms of the Oxford English Dictionary. Although even that’s probably too shocking for many of us.

But that’s what we need. We need to be shocked again at the vileness of this sin. We need to see it for what it is, name it for what it is, and with the blessing of the Holy Spirit we might raise a new generation of men and women who will abhor this self-centered perversion of God’s created order.

Whatever you do, do not marry a masturbator (see clarification in comments below). Marriage rarely stops it. Indeed, many marriages have been ruined by it and by the fornication and adultery it almost always results in.

And if this post has sickened and disgusted you, good! That was the aim. Now take your nausea and disgust to the holy Lord Jesus Christ for pardon AND purging.

To paraphrase the Apostle John, “If we confess our masturbation, he is faithful and just to forgive us our masturbation and to cleanse us from all our masturbation!”

A Quick Modesty Checklist

All Christians are agreed that the Bible calls us to modesty. It’s hard though to find two who agree about what modesty means. Based on the multiple examples of immodesty seen on various red carpets throughout the year, here are seven questions to ask in our clothing choices. Hope they help more than the measuring tape.

The amount of fabric: Is there enough to cover what should be covered?

The position of the fabric: Does the fabric cover the critical places – high and low, front and back?

The transparency of the fabric: Is the fabric too see-through?

The holes in the fabric: Do the holes for arms, legs, and neck reveal too much? Are there holes where there should be fabric?

The movement of the fabric: Am I still modest when walk, sit down, or lean over?

The tightness of the fabric: Are my clothes more like body-paint?

The color/patterns/logos of the fabric: Am I attention seeking or trying to startle and get others talking about me?

The state of the heart: Most importantly, what are my motives in my clothing choices? Is it about pleasing the Lord first and most? Or is it about pleasing me, my friends, my culture, etc.? Or is it even about deliberately offending others.

Any other questions or guidelines you would offer?

While you’re thinking about that, here are some books and blog links that might help you and your kids think through these issues further. I don’t agree with everything written in them but they should stimulate some healthy debate!


Christian Modesty and the Public Undressing of America by Jeff Pollard

A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue by Wendy Shalit

Blog Articles

Modesty Heart Check
Modeling Modesty – Mary Mohler
What And What Not To Wear – Mary Kassian
Modesty in a Hypersexual World – Carolyn McCulley
Good news, fellas! Only women are required to be modest, apparently. | The Matt Walsh Blog
Toward a New Understanding of Modesty – Katelyn Beaty – The Atlantic
The Upward Call – The Upward Call – Questions of modesty
Modesty and Legalism | CBMW | The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
How to Encourage Teens to Dress Modestly | Babysitting Jobs
Modesty Lines: 3 Things That Are out of Bounds | Wade-O Radio
Promoting Modesty in Our Teenage Daughters – The Gospel Coalition
How Christian Modesty Acts « THE CHRISTIAN PUNDIT
Parents, don’t dress your girls like tramps – CNN.com
What makes our modesty distinctly Christian?
Modesty: Legalism, Antinomianism, or Obedience? « THE CHRISTIAN PUNDIT
Backward Porn Addiction: when women draw attention to themselves | Rick Thomas
How Do You Address Modesty? | Worship Matters
Whatever Happened to Modesty?

Five Important Questions For A Depressed Person

In this video, I discuss five important questions I ask early on when counseling someone with depression. They are:

1. Do you accept you have a problem?

2. Are you willing to explore all dimensions of this problem?

3. Do you want to be made whole?

4. Are you willing to explore all possible solutions?

5. Do you trust me when I tell you there is hope for recovery?

You can see other short videos from the Christians Get Depressed Too video series here or view five feature length documentaries here.