Four Thoughts on Happiness
I’ve been reflecting on happiness lately. Here are four thoughts I’d like to share with you—and then solicit your thoughts on happiness.
1. God wants us to be happy—in this life.
I’m old enough to remember the old Baltimore Catechism that presented the faith in question and answer form. One of the first questions was this: Why did God make you? The correct answer (which we kids memorized back then) was this: To know Him, love Him, serve Him in this life, and be happy with Him in the next. I appreciate the “know Him, love Him, serve Him” part. But I don’t like the implication that we will be happy only in the next life.
If I am seeking to know, love, and serve God in this life, won’t that bring me a certain level of happiness in this life—even if my life is imperfect or challenging? Finding meaning in life through the Gospel, I believe, can lead to a deep sense of happiness. After all, if we Christians are staking our lives on the Good News, how could we be anything but basically happy people?
2. Happiness is a pathway, not a destination.
As children we may have thought, “If I get a bike for Christmas, I’ll be completely happy!” And if we did get the bike, what happened next? Sooner or later, we began to feel discontent again. That bike did not satisfy our craving for happiness. As we grew older, perhaps we tried to find happiness in other things: getting good grades in school, finding a good job, marrying the right person, having a fine family. Although all these achievements can bestow a certain amount of happiness, none satisfies us completely. That’s because happiness in this life is not a once-and-for-all achievable goal. It is a manner of living. It is not a destination; it is a pathway. For us Christians, happiness is a manner of living based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
3. Happiness is rooted in our identity.
Who are you? The answer to the question lies at the heart of happiness. We Christians believe we are children of a loving God. We are brothers and sisters of a Jesus who triumphed over sin and death. We are temples of the Holy Spirit filled with God’s own goodness and power. If we truly believe this, then the underlying pulsation of our life will be happiness.
This doesn’t mean we will always be smiling. It doesn’t mean things will always go our way. It doesn’t mean life will always make sense to us. But it does mean that the knowledge of our relationship to God allows happiness to co-exist with doubt, pain, and sorrow. In fact, no matter what negative human emotions we may be experiencing—such as fear, anxiety, confusion, or dread—we can still have happiness in the deepest level of our soul. How can this be? Because, no matter what is happening to us, our loved ones, and the world community, we trust that everything—every thing!—is in God’s loving hands.
4. Happiness depends on how we see.
Pope Francis has written much about happiness. In fact, one of his books (a collection of his homilies) is titled Happiness in This Life. In it he says he sometimes lets children ask him questions. One girl asked him, “Where do you see God?” The Pope replied, “I try to meet God in every circumstance of life.” He described trying to see God in the Bible, in the Sacraments, in his work, and in people. Happiness, then depends not so much on the particular circumstances of our life. It depends much more on how we see our particular circumstances. If we find ourselves joy-less and miserable, maybe we don’t need to radically change our circumstances. (Sometimes we can’t.) But we may need a new pair of glasses so we might see what’s good about our lives and how God is active and alive even in these particular circumstances. In troubling times, God might be calling us to greater patience, humility, and trust.
Let’s conclude this short reflection with this prayer:
A Little Prayer for Happiness
God, I want to be happy. And I believe you want me to be happy too—not only in eternity, but also in this life. Keep me connected to the Good News of the Gospel. May the life and teachings of Jesus guide my actions and choices. Help me to see that happiness in this life is not a destination. It is a pathway. Happiness depends less on what I have in this life and more on the manner in which I am living this life. Give me a deeper sense of my identity as your child, as a sister or brother of Jesus, as a temple of the Holy Spirit. And finally, my Gracious God, help me to see. Give me eyes to find you in the circumstances of my everyday life—whether those circumstances seem nice, neutral, or negative. Lead me to trust that everything—myself, my loved ones, the entire earth community, and world events—are all somehow being held in your loving hands. Amen.
Did anything stand out for you in this reflection?
Do you have any thoughts about happiness that you would add?
Are you happy?
Today I chose an old hymn “How Can I Keep from Singing?” written in 1860. I’ve used this song as the theme of some of my retreats. This version of the hymn is done by Keith & Kristyn Getty. The Getty’s are a popular couple who have written and produced many beautiful contemporary Christian songs. They divide their residence between Northern Ireland and Nashville, TN. They are the parents of four daughters: Eliza Joy, Charlotte, Grace, and Tahlia. May this old traditional hymn strengthen us in our faith today.
As I always do, I welcome your comments below!
One of my favorite hymns! Greater patience, humility and trust…that’s always the key. Sometimes being patient may be most difficult, but when you weight your life circumstances with all the things happening in the world today, how can you not keep from singing!
Melanne what a beautiful blog I find it hard sometimes to see the happy side especially when I am in lots of back pain but I know that I should rejoice with the good days and bad.Thank you for all your words of encouragement.
Great song! Great everything! I really think I am smack in the middle of the good, the bad, and the messy; but somehow, keep singing and finding joy amidst it all. Thanks Sister!
Hello, Sr Melannie and everyone!
The “hmm” is me pondering, “Am I happy?”
I’m tired most days, exhausted in fact, prone to spells of discouragement. But I’m more grateful for the good things in life than I’ve ever been. I’m abler to navigate the gnarly stuff. And there are unexpected delights that come my way. So yes, on balance? Probably happy. At least, grateful.
I’m sometimes suspicious of happiness, though! Or maybe I’m suspicious of elation, excitement, enthusiasm, joy — I don’t know how to describe it. The emotional “highs”: they do dissipate, deflate, or at least calm down into something normal and manageable and ordinary.
But I guess one key to happiness is finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Trying to remember Wordsworth’s line about “the meanest flower” that gives “thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears” — had to look it up. But not tears of sadness only, perhaps tears of joy?
Happiness might be feeling the whole gamut of things, from joy to sorrow, in their measure and in their time. I’m happy when the barista smiles back at me. I’m happy when I read a good poem by a friend. I’m happy when I hear light-hearted music. And then I can weep over music — something opens the floodgates.
Happiness is connection. Yes, solitude and silence are needful and restorative. But nothing beats connection; nothing beats discovering kinship where one hadn’t seen it before.
Sorry for the double comment, but often, when I try to post here, I get a screen that says, “You have been blocked from accessing this site.” And I have to jump through a hoop or two of proving I’m not a robot, and have to summarize what I was “trying to do” on your page! I usually write something whimsical, like, “I was trying to name the entire cast of Saturday Night Live from 1982.”
But does anyone else get this screen? — or is it just me?
I have had to deal with the “you are blocked” screen several times. At this point I choose not to post to avoid that hassle but I enjoy reading what everyone else has to say. I especially enjoy your posts Thomas.
Thank you so much!
And thank you also for letting me know I’m not the only one with that curious obstacle of a screen!
I, too, get the questioning screen, but I hadn’t thought of clever ways to answer the “what am I trying to do” question. Congratulations for your wit! Be assured the ominous screen has not targeted you alone.
Happiness is fleeting. Joy is/can be eternal.
I loved, Happiness is a pathway. Not a destination.
I enjoy the beauty of nature and sunshine. I enjoy simply being with friends and family. I really enjoy my quiet time in my morning. My prayer time for others.
Thank you for sharing!
Thanks so much to Sr. Melannie.
Are you happy? Yes, I am so happy.
Happiness for me is I can read this blog once a week from Taipei Taiwan.
Like a retreat for me to think God is love, and love everyone no matter you believe or not.
I appreciate this as I think the Catholic Church has for too long emphasized suffering and acceptance….Life can be hard and sad and there is nothing wrong for wanting and striving to be happy in this life and I believe God wants us to be reasonably happy as well. To smile, to have joy and to have a decent life. I think there is too much injustice in the world today that brings most of us a lot of unhappiness. None of this is God’s will for humanity.
I too get pushed out when trying to post and it won’t save my name for next time!
I feel unhappy that some are having difficulties posting
and commenting. But Tom you are right on about the role of
gratitude and happiness. Don’t think you can have one without the
One of my favorite hymns says it all (there’s lots more verses😊)
I believe if you want to be happy: “just do it”. To me its a choice
count your blessings and be happy. God loves you
I’m so sorry to hear that some of you are having trouble leaving a comment. I’ll report that glitch to our IT people. For me, the comments are one of the best things about my blog! But special thanks for those of you who were able to post a comment. I really am interested in what you have to say. Keep the comments coming! Thanks again! Sr. Melannie
Living in Laguna Woods we are finding sorrow and grief everywhere after the shooting at the Presbyterian church. Happiness sometimes seems so uncertain but healing will slowly emerge. I treasure special moments at times like this and realize the goodness around that sometimes is taken for granted. Reach out and hug someone today. Love, fran
Good afternoon, Sr. Melannie…
Like others, I really love this song. I brought me to a peaceful place, one I needed to go to, especially in light of recent events.
Am I happy? I would say yes, but also tired. It’s the end of the school year, and that means EXHAUSITION! But soon it will be blessed summer…ahhhh!
I’ll close with a quote from Emily Dickinson, one that I think echoes happiness being a pathway: “So instead of getting to Heaven at last/ I going — all along.”
When I am asked the question about being a robot, etc., I simply say I am posting a comment and it gives me no trouble.
As far as the blog is concerned….I would say, I am intrinsically filled with joy….happy a lot of the time, exasperated at times, horrified at the misery so many have to suffer, but always grateful when I am able to get myself back to whose I am.
There are days that I look in my closet and am sick of my clothes….hate the way I look in my clothes since the pandemic, but really am aware of the growth I’ve had during this time and am happy with who I am becoming.
Being a spiritual director, I have the privilege of walking the journey with several people and find that the holy spirit speaks through me in new ways that give hope to not only the directee, but to me as well.
Indeed, “How can I keep from singing?”
May God continue showering you all with the grace of happiness,
You wrote,” To know Him, love Him, serve Him in this life, and be happy with Him in the next. I appreciate the “know Him, love Him, serve Him” part. But I don’t like the implication that we will be happy only in the next life.”
I have always read that as yes,being happy in the here and now but imagine being happy WITH Him in the next….for eternity. Wow just imagine what that happiness will be like!,
Thanks for you thought provoking posts.😀