“Understanding Happiness” by Jenny Hoffman

Jenny Hoffman
Jenny Hoffman

Jenny Hoffman is associate managing editor at Eerdmans. In this post, she shares her thoughts on Joan Chittister’s Happiness

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It’s safe to say that everyone wants to be happy and that many of us aren’t as happy as we wish we would be.

Fortunately for those of us who fall in this category, we can turn to Joan Chittister’s recent book on happiness. If anyone out there is already 100% happy, 100% of the time, this book may not be for you. For the rest of us, there’s food for thought here.

One insight that I find especially comforting is that our happiness doesn’t depend entirely on the things that happen to us in life. How could any of us be happy for long if that were the case?

We all face tragedies in our lives — deaths of loved ones, devastating illnesses, job losses, and on and on. And then there are the endless waves of tragedies in our communities, in our nation, in our world. Even while we remember gratefully the wonderful goodness in our lives, the relentless suffering — our own, or that of others — also wears us down.


Chittister doesn’t deny the tragedies, the difficulties, or the suffering. She makes no secret of the fact that she has faced her own tragedies and struggles. But she does say that how we handle these experiences, even our basic attitudes to life, does make an enormous difference. Here she is in her own words:

Happiness is a composite made up of a cluster of attitudes. It is a person’s stained-glass insight into life, each color, each shape laboriously chosen, until, everything taken together, it becomes our characteristic way of looking at the world.

In this book, Chittister draws wisdom and insight from a wide range of sources, from Aristotle to recent scientific studies and surveys. Her aim is to help us understand how we look at the world, and perhaps how to change our own stained-glass windows in order to be happier in life.

Click here to order Joan Chittister’s Happiness.