The Happiness Dare: Pursuing Your Heart's Deepest, Holiest, and Most Vulnerable Desire

The Happiness Dare: Pursuing Your Heart's Deepest, Holiest, and Most Vulnerable Desire

by Jennifer Dukes Lee


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Would you like to be happier?
No matter who you are or how you feel, chances are you would answer yes. And Jennifer Dukes Lee was no different. For years, she wrestled with a constant nagging sense that she wasn’t as happy as she could be. At the same time, she felt guilty for wanting something so “shallow.” After all, doesn’t God only care that we find joy in our circumstances? Or is it possible that God really does want us to be happy?

Determined to get answers, Jennifer embarked on a quest to find out whether our happiness matters to God and, if so, how to pursue it in a way that pleases him.

In The Happiness Dare, you’ll learn what she discovered, including how to:

  • Understand the five happiness styles and maximize yours
  • Overcome the four biggest obstacles that stand in the way of your happiness
  • Find your happiness sweet spot—the place, relationship, or activity that gives you the greatest sense of well-being
  • Discover what you can do in just five minutes a day to be happier
Will you take the dare?

Join Jennifer in the pursuit of your truest, most satisfied, and most faith-filled self.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496411143
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 08/02/2016
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 516,022
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Jennifer Dukes Lee, author of Love Idol, is a storyteller and a grace dweller. She is a popular blogger, an (in)courage writer, and a frequent speaker who can't get over God's amazing grace. Her writing has appeared at Women of Faith, Today's Christian Woman, Relevant, and the blogs of Ann Voskamp and Holley Gerth.

Rachel Dulude is an actor and book narrator based in Providence, Rhode Island. She has been recording audiobooks since 2012 in genres ranging from young adult to adult thrillers. As an actor, she has performed with the Wilbury Theatre Group in Providence and the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

Read an Excerpt

The Happiness Dare

Pursuing Your Heart's Deepest, Holiest, and Most Vulnerable Desire


Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2016 Jennifer Dukes Lee
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4964-1114-3


Stalking Happiness

It was when I was happiest that I longed most. ... The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing ... to find the place where all the beauty came from.


For most of my life, I considered myself a happy person — not the kind of woman who claps with giddy delight over her breakfast waffles, but the kind of woman who makes regular use of her grin.

I grew up in a happy home with two parents who loved me. My life wasn't perfect, but I was exceedingly blessed. Mom and Dad took us every Sunday morning to the brick- front Methodist church, which sat a block away from our home. Sunday afternoons were spent with the radio tuned to 94.5 FM for Casey Kasem's American Top 40.

There were countless games of tag and Ghost in the Graveyard. My hair was held firmly in place by Aqua Net, and I kept my limbs cozy inside of leg warmers. The town library was three blocks from my front door, and we were permitted to climb onto the roof of our house to read our books. I slid every morning down a wooden banister. My mom was the town prankster — every summer she planted a plastic tomato in the neighbors' garden, giving them the false hope of the town's first crop. Dad drove a silver Mercury and taught us about hard work and loyalty. He worked for the same farmers' co-op for all of my growing-up years. A banana-seat bike carted me a good many miles around my hometown. My cat answered to Garfield.

We didn't have air-conditioning, but that meant I fell asleep on May nights with windows cracked open wide enough for the rain and lilacs to sneak in on a fragrant ribbon, floating under my nose during dreams.

But there were hard days too — a tapestry of funerals, breakups, surgeries, and teenage counseling appointments for my anxiety. I still have the cassette tapes my therapist used to try and hypnotize me into a better frame of mind. But even then, I had it in me solid to believe that life was generally good, and that it was all going to work out in the end.

As an adult, I've seen life mostly through the same rose-colored lenses. To me, the proverbial glass has usually been half-full. Sure, there have been hard seasons. I could spend whole chapters telling you about the mess of my marriage in the early years, Scott's and my dual workaholism, and a long stretch of postpartum depression after our daughter Anna was born. I took a little yellow pill to keep me level. But even during those inevitable times when the glass looked half-empty, I was always thankful that I had a glass — and that there was something in it.

Then I entered middle adulthood. I held the same glass as before, but it felt like the contents were leaking through a hole I couldn't find. I had fallen into a bland malaise — me, a chronic Eeyore — but not for any one particular reason. I wasn't exactly despairing, but I knew I wasn't as happy as I could be. I wondered if maybe this was what people called a midlife crisis. I wasn't sure.

There were legitimate reasons for my sludgy feelings. I had entered a season of protracted loneliness. My husband's dad, Paul, became sick with leukemia and then died within the year, leaving a hole in our hearts. My husband scrambled to figure out how to farm seven hundred acres of land on his own. Four days before Paul died, a car flew into my lane on an icy highway, crashing into my van. I was grateful to have survived, but I ended up with a wound that took six months to heal. The whole ordeal caused me to consider how fragile life was — and how quickly mine was passing by. I began to rethink my life's purpose, my plans, and whether I was living the life God wanted for me.

You know how it goes: In one skinny minute, a crisis can grow out of nowhere to devour your happiness. All over the planet, right this instant, happiness is being snatched away by a tumor with long fingers, by a spouse with stubborn addictions, or by a coworker with a mean streak who makes the office feel like a hike through the Mojave Desert — while wearing stilettos.

But sometimes it's the little irritations that chisel away at your joy: Your jeans don't fit like they used to. You miss your flight. You lose your cool. You burn the pizza. You sell out. You think un-Christian thoughts in church. One kid kicks the other in the shins, and your own personal meltdown makes theirs look like an English tea party. Your favorite show is canceled. Someone you care about doesn't invite you. You shrink your favorite T-shirt. You envy how everyone else seems to be finding the secret to a happy life — and how it comes so naturally to them, with perfectly plated suppers and exotic beach vacations. You experience guilt when you live the opposite of what you preach to your kids — hypothetically speaking, of course. All of it makes you feel shadowy on the inside, not exactly like the person you want to be.

During my own gloomy season, questions clinked around in my insides, like ice against glass, about the meaning of life. Was Solomon — the king with enough status and wealth to seek happiness in every earthly pleasure imaginable — right? Was it all "Meaningless! Meaningless!"?

As I asked these questions, I was certain that my life wasn't bearing the fruit of happiness like it could. And I wondered if part of the problem was my misinterpretation of what it meant to live happily in Jesus. I knew what the Bible said about picking up my cross and walking the narrow way home. When Jesus came again, I was pretty sure he'd rather find me suffering for him than swinging merrily from the rafters. Yet in my wearying efforts at lugging around my piety, I felt like I was missing something crucial.

My life was — statistically speaking — half over, and I was afraid I had been sleepwalking through it. My productivity would tell you otherwise. My productivity would tell you I was a machine. I was operating as if my worth — and my happiness — could be calculated in efficiencies, proficiencies, boxes checked, and ladders climbed. Ask me to serve on your committee, and I would shout, "Yes!" You needed someone to take the lead? You could count on me! Who needed sleep? I could sleep when I was dead.

Night after night, I awoke to see the clock staring back at me:

2:28 a.m.

3:19 a.m.

4:25 a.m.

During those hours, I would roll over to stare across the darkened room. The trees, illuminated by the outdoor lamplight, cast lacy shadows that shuffled across the wall next to the metal cross. My mind replayed events of the day previous. When I was done with yesterday's missteps and mistakes, I would fixate on the worst-case scenarios of tomorrow.

I'd quickly remind myself that life was too short to fret like this. I even knew the Bible verses that said so. I'll bet you have them underlined too. "Do not worry about tomorrow." "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." Those were the kinds of verses I shared with people nearly every day on my blog and social-media pages. Before I ever write a message quoting Scripture to my readers, you can be fairly certain that I have preached the same words to the most bankrupt parts of myself. A lot of that preaching happened in the dark hours at the Church of St. Mattress.

I didn't want my tombstone to read, "Here lies a woman who had great intentions but lived with deep regret." Also? I wanted to have more fun before I was in said grave, taking — as my mother would say — my "dirt nap." I wanted to be a woman who lived joyfully until I drew my last breath.

My self-affirming pep talks generally lulled me back to sleep, with my peace temporarily intact and my resolve strengthened. But by morning, my inner crazy was coming in through the back door of my brain. Before 9:00 a.m., I found myself barking orders at the girls, bemoaning my deadlines, and deepening the crease on my forehead. My disordered thoughts robbed me of the ability to enjoy life, despite the innumerable blessings I'd been given: a good man, two beautiful girls, health, a roof over my head, and a church family. Yet I was missing my life. I was missing God.

At night, I'd fall back asleep, trees waving outside in the breeze, only to wake up again with those alarm-clock numbers staring back at me as I quoted verses, made promises, and vowed again that tomorrow would be different.

I had lost the fullness of my happiness and I didn't know where to find it. What I'm going to tell you next might sound a little crazy, but it's the truth: During those times of unhappiness, my great comfort came in believing that God didn't care about happiness anyway. My great comfort came in believing that God cared more about my holiness. So I figured, If I can't be happy, I'm still good with God. My holiness, then, became an excuse to stop seeking happiness.

This is a tragic error of Christians everywhere. Welcome to the atrophy of the human soul. But this is where some of us are right now. We are highly suspicious of happiness. We really do want to be happy — secretly of course — but we'll tell everyone else it's joy we want. Because isn't joy the holier aim? Isn't happiness against the rules?

Some of us may believe that we have to pick one or the other: happiness or Jesus. During my gray days, I didn't know yet that there was a third option: happy holiness. When I discovered happy holiness, it felt like fireworks were going off inside my chest. I had come to understand this truth: Our inner desire for happiness isn't a sin. It's a desire planted in us by God himself.

Yes, you read that right: happiness. Not the reverse of joy. Not the opposite of holiness. But authentic happiness, found in Jesus.

What We're All After

We've just met, but there's something I know about you. You want to be happy too.

How can I be so sure of that? Over thousands of years, people have craved it, sung about it, prayed for it, and wished upon the shimmering stars for it: happiness. It's the underline of every New Year's resolution, the reason behind every diet, the hope underneath every "I do" at the altar. Happiness is the aim of every human — from the free-wheeling squanderer to the most saintly woman under your church steeple.

You and I just want to be happy.

I don't know one person in my life who prefers an unhappy marriage to a happy one; an unhappy heart to a happy one; an unhappy workplace; or unhappy kids. I don't know a sane soul who would dare say, "I wish I wasn't so happy."

Blaise Pascal wrote it more bluntly:

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.

Yikes to the hanging part. But still. It's this longing for happiness that drives us. It's the core motivation behind the colleges we pick, the career paths we choose, the clubs we join, the friends we associate with, the people we marry, even the sacrifices we make for others. We might call it purpose, contentment, peace, joy — but if Pascal and dozens of other philosophers are right, we are motivated by what we think will create more happiness for ourselves and for those we love.

But this happiness we seek is not a wimpy emotion. Happiness has been advertised as some kittenish, fluffy feeling. In reality, happiness can make your heart race with excitement — and sometimes with a bit of fear. Because on our happiest days, we are worried it won't last. My husband and I will go long stretches of argue-free days — and not just argue-free days, but truly happy and blissful days, days when I thank the good Lord for giving me the man I have. He's so precious to me. But on those days, I'm also scared to live into the fullness of my happiness. I hold back my enthusiasm, an emotional tempering, because I'm afraid of what's ahead.

Quarrels like the one we had in the northwoods remind me that the future is always ticking toward the inevitable argument and the forgiveness that will surely need to be asked for. Even worse, we know happiness can be fleeting because trouble awaits us all.

"In this world you will have trouble," Jesus said.

Not "might."

Not "if you're especially naughty."

Not "probably."

Jesus said you will have trouble. As a result, happiness leaves us vulnerable.

Why Happiness Is a Vulnerable Desire

Happiness is a vulnerable desire because crisis is an absolute guarantee.

We all know we might be one phone call, one diagnosis, or one fight away from losing what feels so good right now. How can I live with extravagant happiness today if the remote possibility exists that one of my two girls has a yet-undetected terminal illness? I can't tell you how many times I've gotten up at 3:00 a.m., playing out worst-case scenarios that are not likely to ever unfold.

But the truth is, my worst nightmares are someone's present reality. What right do I have to be happy in a busted-up world where people are weeping over graves right this second?

If we are in a season of great blessing, we might feel guilty for it when we look around at a warped world filled with pain. Dare I be happy when people are starving, dying, or running for their lives from terrorists?

Furthermore, if God wants us to be happy, what does that say about us when we are unhappy? If we are not happy today, does that mean that we are doing something wrong? If God wants us to be happy and we are just not "feeling it" for a day, or for a whole season, does that mean we've been found disobedient to an all-seeing God?

If God wants people to be happy, but we're miserable, it is easy to believe that one of these two hypotheses is true:

1. I'm doing life all wrong.


2. God doesn't really see me or love me. He sees and loves all the other happy people, with their unfiltered profile pics; trophied kids; second honeymoons; job promotions; and perfectly plated, Instagrammable dinners. But if my own life is a mess, maybe God doesn't see or love me.

There are two more reasons why happiness is such a vulnerable desire:

1. In moments where we dare to feel happy, someone else might resent us for it. If you've ever been the target of someone's envy, you know what I mean. You got the promotion, reached a new fitness goal, or received special recognition. You were happy, for good reason. But not everyone shared in your happiness. You could practically feel their envy from across the room. If that's you, these words, attributed to actress Bette Midler, will make a ton of sense: "The worst part of success is trying to find someone who is happy for you."

Furthermore, we may feel bad when we know that the source of our happiness is the prayed-for dream of someone we know. I remember, for instance, feeling a tempered happiness when I found out that I was pregnant after Scott and I had tried for exactly a month. When I saw the faint lines show up on my pregnancy test, I rejoiced. But then I started counting. Immediately I could name five women who had been trying to have a baby for months, even years.

Happiness makes us feel vulnerable because we don't know how to appropriately express ourselves when someone else can't have what we have. We don't want our happiness to be the source of someone else's unhappiness.

2. Happiness leaves us feeling vulnerable because it actually does have a shadow side. There's a negative form of happiness, a "do whatever makes you happy" philosophy that really is selfish. We all know people who have looked for happiness in ill-advised places.

In the enemy's hands, what God meant for good is always used for evil. It's one of the enemy's favorite tricks — to make you misuse a gift from your Creator. The main problem with happiness isn't in our desire. It's in the ways we sometimes try to feed that desire.

At the root of idolatry is the cunning twisting of truth. Cool gifts from God — like sex, food, and even happiness — become nooses slipped around our spiritual necks. The enemy convinces us that anything God made is better in excess.

What we think will bring us happiness is sometimes short-lived, if not dangerous. (I can say that, because I once tried to ride a mechanical bull. My happiness lasted approximately 3.5 seconds, followed by an intense case of unhappiness in my right hip. But I digress.)

We can see how the chase for happiness has moved people miles away from God. We look around and see the carnage left behind when people indulge the carnal pursuit of happiness: the broken families, empty bottles, and drained checkbooks.

But wait. That doesn't mean we ought to turn our backs on the worthy pursuit of happiness. Author Randy Alcorn writes, "Is there selfish and superficial happiness? Sure. There's also selfish and superficial love, peace, loyalty, and trust. We shouldn't throw out Christ-centered happiness with the bathwater of self-centered happiness."

Humans are great mistreaters and mistrusters of the virtue of happiness. When life is good, we feel guilty about being happy. When life is bad, someone else will remind us that another person has it worse. And if we stay unhappy too long, we can feel forced by someone to get happy, for heaven's sake!


Excerpted from The Happiness Dare by JENNIFER DUKES LEE. Copyright © 2016 Jennifer Dukes Lee. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Confession of a Happy Woman ix

Part 1 You have Permission

Chapter 1 Stalking Happiness 3

Chapter 2 The Holy Pursuit of Happiness 21

Chapter 3 The Happiness Dare 35

Part 2 You Have a Style

Chapter 4 The Importance of Finding Your Happiness Style 53

Chapter 5 The Doer 73

Chapter 6 The Relater 91

Chapter 7 The Experiencer 111

Chapter 8 The Giver 133

Chapter 9 The Thinker 153

Part 3 You Have a Choice

Chapter 10 Five Minutes to a Happier You 175

Chapter 11 The Principle of Small Daily Gains 193

Chapter 12 The Principle of Good Enough 209

Chapter 13 The Principle of Putting Up Your Dukes 225

Chapter 14 The Principle of the Head-to-Foot Alleluia 243

Chapter 15 The Happiness Cycle 263

What's Your Happiness Style? 269

Acknowledgments 279

Notes 283

About the Author 290

What People are Saying About This

Jeannie Cunnion

With her familiar warmth and wisdom, Jennifer Dukes Lee has written a captivating book that will transform the way you think about happiness. Combining biblical truth and brilliant storytelling, she answers all of the questions I have privately wondered about happiness, revealing how it beautifully intersects with joy and holiness in the Christian life. You don’t want to miss The Happiness Dare. It will have you doing your own happy dance.

Kristen Strong

As I read The Happiness Dare, I kept repeating one sentence to myself about its author: Wow, she really gets me. Jennifer is a most insightful and trustworthy writer, and I connected with this book in a way I’ve connected with few others. Not only is The Happiness Dare the best kind of medicine for any woman who fears happiness is unattainable or unholy; reading it is just plain fun. Pick up this engaging book and discover your own sweet spot of happiness: where your earthly pleasure meets heavenly joy.

Sara Hagerty

I read The Happiness Dare with a recently broken ankle and little mobility and was provoked to see the God of happy holiness within its pages. I found “happy” in a cast, while stuck indoors, as Jennifer invited me to look at the God who both created happiness and gave us a grid in his Word to chase after it, right within our reach. Jennifer invites every kind of reader to find happiness and the God who created it. She not only reveals the beautifully Biblical case for “happy holiness” but she invites us beyond theory and into the living.

Holley Gerth

Jennifer Dukes Lee’s insightful and engaging words share not only the how of happiness but also the heart of it. More than just helpful information, The Happiness Dare lays out a path to spiritual and emotional transformation. As someone for whom happiness doesn’t come naturally or easily, I wish I’d had this book years ago.

Melissa Michaels

Jennifer grabbed my attention on every page with her thoughtful and thought-provoking words on what happiness looks and feels like. This book will inspire you to let your guard down so you’ll be empowered to experience the life-changing and God-given happiness found throughout every season and circumstance.

Crystal Paine

I was so blessed and challenged by reading this book. It spoke to me at a deep level and inspired me to embark on my own Happiness Dare! Thank you, Jennifer, for inspiring us all to boycott cynicism and wring the delight out of the ordinary days.

Kristen Welch

Happiness—it’s that elusive destination our culture seeks at all costs. And often when we finally grasp the slippery emotion, it’s fleeting. In The Happiness Dare, Jennifer unpacks the journey to a truly happy life found in Christ instead of our feelings. It’s practical, it’s encouraging, it’s a dare we should all take! I highly recommend this book.

Ruth Schwenk

In all of our striving for happiness, could it really be that God wants us to be happy too? In The Happiness Dare, Jennifer Dukes Lee helps us discover a truth a lot of us have been missing and dares us to boldly walk in the freedom God intended for us all along. I absolutely loved this book!

Lysa TerKeurst

If you’ve ever wondered if God really cares about your happiness, this book is for you. Within these pages, Jennifer shows us how to live out a “holy pursuit of happiness” and personalizes this with an eye-opening assessment you can take to find out what happiness style you naturally flourish in. I can’t say enough good things about The Happiness Dare!

Renee Swope

I absolutely love The Happiness Dare, written by my friend Jennifer Dukes Lee. Based on her own desire to fight for and find happiness on the happy and not-so-happy days, Jennifer offers us so much more than a book. She has created an insightful, fun, wise, and encouraging life-guide to help us become the best version of ourselves by living in our God-given sweet spot. Packed with powerful stories, tools, and everything you need to discover your personal happiness style, you’re in for a treat. Get rid of the guilt and get ready to enjoy the way God made you by starting your personal happiness dare today!

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