On Happiness

We want to be happy. Thousands of books are published yearly on this subject. The entire self-help section in the bookstores could be relabeled ‘How to be Happy’ and it would it as accurate if not more.

Daily I see Facebook posts about being or not being happy. Yet, this most wanted state is so scarce.  

We all have lists of what will make us happy. I have mine. However, are they the things that will truly stratify?

Some say it’s impossible or even fictional.

Some would say certain things like a chocolate chip cookie, sex, or winning the lottery is the only way to be happy.

Henri Nouwen said, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”

C.S. Lewis said, “There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious. It is too good to waste on jokes.”

The Dalia Lama said, “Genuine happiness consists in those spiritual qualities of love, compassion, patience, tolerance and forgiveness. For it is these which provide both for our happiness and others’ happiness.”

George Bernard Shaw said, “This is the true joy of life, the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clot of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can.”

Jesus in John 15 says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

I think all these quotes are saying the same thing. Happiness is not something that just happens to us. It’s a choice and an action. All too often when someone seeks happiness they want it given to them and it’s a ‘me’ thing. Very rarely does one who want to be happy will think outside of themselves. When we are trapped in our selfish inclinations we cannot feel the awesome engulfing feeling of joy that comes to helping others and working for someone else’s happiness. The American Constution doesn’t guarantee happiness; it merely provides the right to pursue happiness. Happiness is something you have to go out and work towards, an inner choice. No person, place, or thing can provide you with happiness. We can help one another create the right opportunities for happiness to grow.

I recently read an article online by Rev. Robert Spitzer, S.J. called the four levels of happiness that listed four Greek words for happiness. They are as follows.

Laetus: Happiness in a thing, “I see the linguini, I eat the linguini and it makes me feel good, I am happy.” This type of happiness is based on something external, short-lived and, on reflection, we do not consider it is all there is to human happiness. This is the most basic and base form of happiness and is me-centered. It’s not true happiness, because it is momentary, immediate, gratification; it does not provide any lasting fulfillment. This happiness can result in more displeasure than the other types of happiness.

Felix: The happiness of comparative advantage is a short-term answer. “I have more of this than X. I am better at this than X.” This happiness results from competition with another person; it’s “the comparison game.” Such happiness is unstable and, if one fails, leads to unhappiness and a sense of worthlessness. Exclusive pursuit tends to oppress others and is materialistic. Most would not imagine a life satisfactory if it were composed of only this shallow kind of happiness. Often the happiness that Western civilization endorses and the reason why America is having the problems it is.

Beatitudo: The happiness that comes from seeing the good in others and doing the good for others. It is other-regarding, long-term and about contribution to the wider community. This type of happiness is in contrast with Felix. One cannot be at the same time in competition with someone else and doing the good for and seeing the good in them. Most people would prefer a world (community, family, and relationships) structured around the pursuit of others well-being than entirely based in competition or self-centered gratification. A higher happiness, but the problem with it is that it is necessarily limited. We cannot be someone else’s everything. For example, they, or we will die and if our happiness is contingent upon them, it dies with them.

Sublime Beatitudo: This category is the most difficult to describe, encompasses a reach for fullness of happiness. The fullness of goodness, beauty, truth and love we recognize in this category, those things are beyond what we are capable of doing purely on our own. This happiness is not anything we can produce or achieve on our own, but is a deep honest reverence of life. We look not to ourselves, but out to the world and to our fellow man. It’s not about getting, but sharing our life and the world. This happiness has the astonishing ability of surprising us and that’s why it is so enduring and elusive.

If you have noticed as I have these last two can be translated as beatitudes, so maybe as Christians we should look at Jesus words on this(see Mathew 5:3-12).

Rev. Robert Spitzer writes,Such questions as ‘Why am I here?’ ‘How can I be happy?’ ‘How can I account for human suffering?’ deal with purpose, meaning and cannot be measured by scientific measurement or answered scientifically because they transcend them. They are properly the questions for religion in terms of what we are committed to and philosophy which deals with the love of wisdom. Augustine describes this quest as fides quaerens intellectus: ‘faith in search of understanding.’”

When some looks for happiness and wonders when will they be happy? They are really saying ‘why me?’Asking and answering that question will bring the first level of happiness, maybe the second, but that’s all it will do. To receive the lasting happiness that we truly crave we need to contribute to a wider community and have a right response to God and the world. St. Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”

God never promised us happiness. Jesus did advise us to abide or remain in him, so that when a storm comes and sweeps away all that we assume makes us happiness, we will have solid ground to stand on. I have experienced this recently.  When a long close friendship ended, the storm blew and blew, but since I was part of a loving community and was discovering the Jesus of the bible, I had a rock to stand firm on. I won’t say that I wasn’t brokenhearted, because I was. I had Jesus, friends, and a community who surrounded me with love and grace to help me through. Some of them may not know what I was going thorough or how much they helped. I now know that I have a savior who loves me, real friends who will be there for me, and a loving community I belong in and for that, I am thankful.

We will be sad and tragedy will overwhelm us, but that doesn’t mean it will break us. No! I say and know it will make us stronger, more Christ-centered, God-glorifying, humble human beings.

In John 16 Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

The end of psalm 23 reads, “Surely goodness and love will follow me/all the days of my life/and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”


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