QUICK HIT: If you can get past its intimidating size, Happiness by Randy Alcorn is a great pastoral resource into the topic. Unlike most “pastor books,” which are smaller and more streamlined, Alcorn gives an exhaustive overview, perhaps more suited for pastoral research than a typical study.
Happiness is…sitting down with a 550 page tome of a book on happiness by Randy Alcorn. This book made me positively gleeful, because it’s a book that not only served me in the present but will continue to serve me and my ministry into the future.
When I first received this book (several months ago, I must admit), I was a bit turned off by its sheer volume. Other books kept slipping in front of it on the to-read pile, not because I didn’t want to read what Alcorn had to say but because it seemed like such a daunting read.
I finally decided to tackle the book the way one should eat a whale. One bite at a time, or, in this case, one chapter every couple of evenings. The end result is that, while the book came out in October 2015, I just closed the cover a few days ago (March 2016).
This was a heavy and hard read for me because, to tell the truth, in late October even through the end of the year, I really didn’t want to be happy. I’ve mentioned this in other reviews, and it’s not something that I intend on bringing up constantly—I only do so now because the books I read and the life I live are inexorably intertwined (life is story, after all)—but in early October, my wife and I lost our son. Happiness was the furthest thing from my mind.
But as time marched on and we went through the grieving process and I began to work my way through this book, I found my happiness slowly returning. Sure, there’s profound loss and sadness that are still a part of who I am, but being reminded of the ways and whys of happiness reminded me how to let joy and sadness coexist inside my head.
With that said, Happiness is not the book I’d recommend to something going through a difficult time, grieving a loss, or dealing with clinical depression. Alcorn’s book is more of a research read, billed as “the definitive study on the topic.” As a pastor, I can tell you that Alcorn’s book is a treasure trove of information and resources that I’ll be borrowing for years to come. It’s the type of book you read for a specific chapter or to answer a certain question, not the kind of book you typically sit down to read straight through. Alcorn’s research is really the strength of the book. He pulls together quotes and resources from all over the place to make a compelling case for Happiness.
As far as structure, the book is divided into four parts. Part 1, Our Compelling Quest for Happiness, covers the first 125 pages and focuses in on the human longing for happiness and how we often lose it in the quest to get it. Part 2 takes a more theological bent, discussing The Happiness of God. Part 3 turns to Scripture to do exegetical studies on happiness in Scripture, specifically spending time on the Hebrew term samach. The last part covers some odds and ends chapters about experiencing happiness in God.
Again, this book is massive and it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Don’t. Take it in chunks, piece by piece. It’s worth it.