What is this existence within which we humans find ourselves? Every morning we wake up and perceive the world through our senses. A perception onto which we put all of our memories to establish what we might call our point of view, one that might differ from the point of view of another. However, we humans all live in the same world, made up of similar material with a similar shape, and for the most part, want the same thing. Every human being wants to be happy.
We can be as different from each other as Voldemort differs from Emma Watson, but the fact is, even if one finds it in different ways, everyone desires happiness. There are only positive connotations with the word “happy”. Besides in a fit of hyperbole, no one claims to want a life without it. But what is this common treasure that all seek?
What Happiness Isn’t
There are a few false notions of happiness in the world today that should be pointed out to help clear our trajectory. Some would put forward the utilitarian definition that misidentifies happiness as sensual pleasure. They would say that we must seek pleasure and avoid pain at all times, even at the expense of others, to find happiness. If this were true, what a pitiful state we would all be in! How fleeting!
While delight is an accident of happiness and pleasure might correspond with happiness, it would be impossible to remain happy if one was only happy when pleasure was experienced. First, pleasure, as well as all experiences that come to us through the senses, cannot last, and therefore, happiness would not last. Second, as great as pleasure can be at times, it cannot satisfy as happiness does. Pleasure remains on the surface and can be distinguished from the satisfaction it might accompany, yet differs from. The quenching of thirst found in drinking water might feel pleasurable, but that pleasure is only an added bonus, not the satisfaction we seek when we are thirsty.
Furthermore, if happiness is only found in pleasure then why do those who chase after pleasure the most, i.e. addicts, seem the most miserable? Unless their addiction is met, they might never be happy. Furthermore, we have the happiness of those who seek happiness outside of sensual pleasure to counter this.
There have been stories of many saints in various instances of suffering who have remained, and sometimes increased, in a state happiness. Whether it was St. Lawrence’s jovial manner while being filleted alive, St. Therese of Lisiuex’s excitement at the possibility of death, or the prime witness of the joy and happiness of St. John Paul II who knew suffering better than most, the saints show us the transcending quality of true happiness. There is no substitute or reduction that can replace it.
Happiness of the Saints
The saints show us with their lives that happiness is more than what the world offers and is possible to obtain. Thankfully, many holy and happy saints have left us with directions to find what they did.
1. St. Alphonsus Liguori tells us, “Those who love God are always happy.” As the patron saint of confessors, we can assume that the Italian saint of the 18th century knew the human condition well. One can say that those who love God desire to please Him and do His will.
2. St. John Vianney similarly states, “To pray and to love, that is the happiness of man on earth.” He goes on to explain, “Prayer is nothing else than union with God. When the heart is pure and united with God it is consoled and filled with sweetness” Prayer, love, and a pure heart. The patron saint of priests, who usually only ate 1-2 boiled potatoes a day, proves to us that man cannot live on bread alone and that happiness transcends the mundane.
3. St. Josemaria Escriva points out the source of the opposite of happiness: “Sadness is the end product of selfishness. If we truly want to live for God, we will never lack cheerfulness, even when we discover our errors and wretchedness. Cheerfulness finds its way into our life of prayer, so much so that we cannot help singing for joy. For we are in love, and singing is a thing that lovers do.”
4. “The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that He, in His goodness, sends to us day after day. -St. Gianna Molla
A beautiful reminder for us to live in gratitude. There are always good reason to be thankful.
5. St. John Paul II teaches us, “People are made for happiness. Rightly, then, you thirst for happiness. Christ has the answer to this desire of yours. But He asks you to trust Him.” We are meant to be happy, but happy through Jesus. Sometimes, to give us this great happiness, He leads us to step out of our comfort zones.
5 Steps towards Happiness
Keeping in mind the wise words of the Saints shared above, we can take certain steps to not win happiness for ourselves, but form and dispose ourselves to receive great Happiness from God. A few I have in mind are:
- Prayer. Yeah, I know, duh. I actually left my computer in a room alone with a monkey and he typed this. But really, it’s a good reminder. Padre Pio said, “Prayer is like oxygen for the soul”. We need it to feed ourselves spiritually, to shape ourselves and grow in our relationship with God. A relationship without which it is impossible to be happy. And of course this includes frequenting the Sacraments.
- Putting others First. There is a great acronym for the word, JOY, that tells us that you can find Joy through prioritizing Jesus, Others, Yourself. Some might find this cheesy, but it still helps to remind us that we find ourselves and our happiness by serving others. It is an age old paradox, one best explained throughout St. John Paul II’s teachings as he reminds us of the peace and fulfillment we can find when we make “a sincere gift of self”.
- Avoid Sin. Another way of articulating this is to keep God’s Law. Psalm 8:32 tells us, “happy are they who keep my ways”. This is because God made us to live a certain way, and when we fail to follow the instructions, we cannot find the fulfillment we desire. Furthermore, in this way sin weighs us down and in some cases breaks. While some venial sins might still plague us, we are able to stay in the state of grace and never mortally sin again!
- Practice Heroic Virtue. The opposite of sin! We can see that avoiding sin would merely be the bare minimum. We want to be as happy as the saints. In this endeavor, it is good to know that in the process of declaring one worthy of canonization, a committee first looks at the life of the person to see if he or she lived a life of heroic virtue. If they pass this test, they are declared Venerable and only two miracles stand in their way of Canonization. We can find outrageous joy in pushing ourselves to always choose to be just, meek, temperament, fortitudinous, and prudent.
- Hope. Even when we fail at some of these steps, we can keep our peace through hope. God is always seeking our friendship. Therefore, we always have reason to hope. The wise Fr. Jacques Phillipe teaches that we can keep our peace, even after a great mistake, by telling God the following:
1. I am sorry for what I’ve done.
2. Thank you for not letting it be worse.
3. Please help me to do better next time.
While happiness on earth will always lack that final satisfaction that only eternity with God can satisfy, it can still serve it’s purpose of leading ourselves and others closer to God while we are here. I know there are many other steps that can be taken to find happiness in this life. What are some ways you find happiness on earth today?