“It's unprecedented from a historical perspective. On the one hand, they have all these opportunities and options. On the other hand, I can imagine they'd start to feel somewhat anxious about trying to transition into complete adulthood in an economy that doesn't allow them to do that.”
According to Prof. Mitchell, the Jesus Year phenomenon demonstrates how so-called emerging adults are trying to connect their own experience to something transcendental and more profound than mundane daily life. “They are trying to anchor themselves in something bigger than themselves.”
So, the Jesus Year has become a meme for dealing with, not a mid-life crisis but rather a stalled-life crisis.
“That's what really stood out to me – that there is a name for this early 30s malaise thing that I see in all of my friends,” Ms. Sundel says. “By 35, especially for women, you have to be married with babies; otherwise you kind of missed your time.”
She interpreted the Jesus Year as an opportunity for reinvention, a kind of bonus year off from the pressures of adulthood, and embarked upon a year of self-improvement and magical thinking. She travelled. She gathered her rosebuds. She took lots of photos and posted them on social media. For her, the Jesus Year is a bricolage of all the popular “years of” quests that came before – eating in Italy, praying in India, cooking all of Julia Childs's recipes, reading every volume of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Mr. Adams, on the other hand, became a vegetarian. “If Jesus was at the core, it seemed to make killing and eating His creation a bit more significant.
“I don't know if all of this made me any more like Jesus, but I do think it has helped make me a little more conscientious in general.”
The feeling didn't last. He began his 34th year by eating meat for the first time in 365 days, a lamb chop. “And,” he concludes with more than a touch of irony, “it was good.”
A search for meaning
Ignoring the robust scholarly debate over how old Jesus was when he was crucified – or the fact that 33 was hardly young in 33 AD – the most profound reality of this age today is that it's the last gasp before you leave the valuable under-35 demographic. You are becoming less valuable to the marketing machine that had praised you since your teens. All the things you bought don't love you back. The rub, of course, is where do you turn instead?
“I just spent so many years talking to other people about their lives, I was kind of ignoring my life,” Ms. Sundel says. “I had absolutely no more heart left in what I was doing. I was really having a crisis of creativity, which sounds very pretentious. I used to be a creative person. I used to be a complete person. How did I get on this hamster wheel of work? How did all of my identity go into that?”
The quest for deeper meaning comes as no surprise to Mardi Tindal, the 40th moderator of the United Church of Canada. She suspects the Jesus Year speaks to a longing everyone has to be more than themselves.
“Those in their 30s now, as Douglas Coupland said, are the first generation to be raised without religion,” she explains. “If they turn to Jesus, it wouldn't surprise me. He was a model for living a life of transcendence.”
Happiness is very much on Ms. Tindal's mind at the moment. She recently returned from New York, having been invited by the prime minister of Bhutan to participate in a high-level United Nations conference. The goal? To find a place for a “gross national happiness” metric in a global economic system hell bent on gross domestic product.
“We're not talking about a superficial kind of happiness,” she says. “We're talking about a deep sense of well-being.”