Evangelicals are 26 percent more likely to describe themselves as "very happy" than Americans as a whole, according to a Pew Research Center survey released last month. Almost half -- 43 percent -- of evangelical Protestants described themselves that way, compared to only 34 percent of Americans.
[Ruth] Tucker said she doesn't think happiness is necessarily biblical, but it is preached from church pulpits as a Christian calling.
"There's very little room in megachurches for lament and grief and expressing one's deep sadness," Tucker said. "If you feel deep depression or sadness and are going through a rough time, you are told to stay home from church."
The contemporary church's pursuit of happiness is markedly different from historical Christianity's, said Florida State University professor Darrin McMahon, author of Happiness: A History. Christians in the early church, he said, did not expect to have happiness before death. Much of Augustine's City of God, he notes, criticizes those who seek perfect happiness in this world. Original sin, Augustine wrote, made earthly happiness impossible.
"It's only relatively recently, since the 18th century, that people expected religion to make them happy," McMahon said. "In a way, it's a perverse affirmation of the Enlightenment."