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!