Melancholy Gone?

Eighty-four percent of Americans claim to be happy. I, like Wake Forest University English professor Eric G. Wilson, find this to be troubling: how can so many people describe themselves as “happy” at the time they’re asked?

With a litany of self-help books, pills and plastic surgery to feed Americans’ addiction to happiness, he says, “It’s now easier than ever before to live a trouble-free life, to smooth out the rough edges, to hide the darkness.” In his recent book Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, Wilson – a non-recovering melancholic by choice – praises sorrow as the muse of many writers and songwriters, warning that to rid life of it is to rid life of a vital source of creativity.

The danger of expecting to be (made) happy all the time is that the world is not a happy place. I would rather keep all the signs of age and wear and imperfection, not because I love such things in themselves but because their wabi-sabi beauty express human longings for something else.

So am I depressed for short lengths because other people are happy about a world they believe is good enough? I don’t know: I don’t even know if I’ve ever has depression. More to the point, it still does not fail to shock me that people can seem so satisfied about a world that, part from God, offers no lasting satisfaction and is filled instead with all kinds of evils, all kinds of sorrows.

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