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Opinion | How to Cultivate Joy Even When It Feels in Short Supply

Beyond social media, antisocial behavior appears to be on the rise, including spikes in murder, aggressive driving, drug use and random acts of violence. Rates of depression have also soared, particularly among young people. This can be in part attributed to a uniquely difficult few years of isolation and grief due to Covid, but many of these troubling trends began before the pandemic. And even if these Covid years have exacerbated social problems, it is not clear that we can quickly bounce back from the habits of joylessness they engendered. We, as a society, are not well.

Our culture desperately needs to rethink and rediscover joy.

Easter is a seven-week long season of joy that begins on Easter Sunday and stretches all the way to Pentecost 50 days later (the term Pentecost comes from the Greek word meaning fiftieth). In the liturgical calendar, it is the longest season of celebration and feasting. And it is the hardest season for me to keep.

It seems that celebratory seasons would be easier than, say, Lent with its penance, self-denial, and lack of chocolate or alcohol. But, to me, embracing joy always feels like a stretch. I constantly feel out of practice. I enter this season wobbly and weak, like when you first walk around the block after a long illness. I recall a few years ago my friend, the author Andy Crouch, tweeted about how hard it is to make merry for the whole 12 days of Christmas. He said, “We are not accustomed to prolonged joy.” If that’s true of Christmas, it’s even more so for the whopping 50 days of Eastertide.

I’m sure that for some people, Easter comes easily. Part of what I love about practicing the Christian calendar is it tutors us emotionally — whatever we’re like. I spoke to a friend recently at my church who commented that, for her, having grown up in a church that downplayed or ignored grief, having space for the minor keys of Advent and Lent has been healing. For those who tend to avoid negative feelings, penitential seasons call us to slow down, honor loss and mourn the darkness and brokenness in the world and in ourselves.

But then there’s those who tend toward melancholy: depressive types like me, who listen to what Barry in “High Fidelity” calls, “sad bastard music.” We tend to think that sorrow and despair are more authentic and real than celebration and joy. The last thing we want to be — or be seen as — is happy-clappy.

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