There are many things that make me happy, and a sunflower field is close to the top of my list. There is such cheerful serenity contained in those flower that I can’t help but appreciate the incredible touches God has placed on the world for us to enjoy. If I asked you what makes you happy, I’m confident that you could come up with a nice list of very nice things. If I asked you if you were truly happy, what would you say?
Happiness is something that everyone strives for and it is unique because we don’t seek it for the purpose of anything else. It is considered an end in itself. This isn’t just me making that up, I have like Aristotle on my side. It’s something that everyone wants and yet no one can say exactly how to achieve it. This is because there is no one-size-fits-all manual on “how to be happy” (Although I would love one!) I firmly believe that God created us in order for us to experience His love and be eternally happy. This is where many people get angry or frustrated with God, because there are many times that we are not happy and we feel like God is not fulfilling His promise. I don’t know about you, but I would love to be happy and content every day, all the time. Unfortunately, life gets in the way. In the movie Dan in Real Life, Steve Carell wisely said,
There are going to be days, months, and maybe even years where we might feel like life is against us and our happiness is just out of our reach. Maybe we doubt that God remembers that He made us to be happy. For myself, in those times, one of the most annoying and unhelpful pieces of advice I can get is,
On days when I would not classify myself as “happy,” the fact that someone thinks I could be happy, but I just haven’t decided to be, seems a bit ridiculous to me. It also gives me a feeling of discouragement and failure to think thank maybe I just haven’t tried hard enough to be happy.
It’s true, when God promised us happiness, He did not promise unending earthly happiness. He did not promise success in our careers and a continual feeling of contentment. It’s easy to forget the big picture of our lives. If we are truly striving for sainthood, our success in the business world, our level of popularity, and our momentary feelings of happiness becomes secondary and immaterial. However, especially for me, this truth is way easier said than done. In the book In Conversation with God, the author writes,
“We must not forget that our greatest happiness
and our most authentic good
are not always those which we dream of and long for”
Maybe we think we know what we would need to be happy, but that is in a way saying that we know better than God. But the truth is that He knows us better than we know ourselves. God wants us to be happy, not only in eternal life, but in this earthly life as well. It might come in a different forms than what the world would expect, but be on guard, because it will turn up in the most unlikely places. There is a danger to spending a lot of time focusing on our own happiness and how to attain it and hold onto it. We have a difficult time looking outside ourselves to other see people. There are a few saints that I have read of that would wake up in the morning and the first word they would say was, “Serviam” which is Latin for “I will serve.” I think that is a beautiful way to start the day.
A problem that I struggle with is having exceedingly high expectations of myself and of different situations. If I take a step back and start each morning with the mentality of serving, even though it will be imperfectly, the people I encounter in my day, it changes the way I act, think, and react to situations that might normally make me “unhappy.” The “little disappointments” that life is full of take one a lesser meaning no longer acting as stumbling blocks but rather opportunities of offering little sacrifices to God.
Something else that has helped me when happiness is a struggle in that day, month, or even year, is to foster a spirit of gratitude. It helps to focus on the blessings we have instead of the list of things we really, really desire. I remember seeing a quote that said, “What if we woke up with the only things that we had thanked God for the day before?” How much of our prayer time is focused on asking for things instead of thanking Him for always providing for us, in little things as well as big things? Because for me at least, it’s the little things that bring me moments of pure joy, like sitting in my living room in the evening with all the lights off except the Christmas tree lights, or reconnecting with old friends, or taking the time to make an elegant breakfast…
No, maybe, in the moment, we can’t “choose” to be happy. And that is okay. But instead of focusing on our unhappiness, we should simply acknowledge what we are feeling and continue on with our lives instead of becoming mired in our misery. As we Catholics are aware of, our holiness does not depend on our feelings, and the same thing can go for our happiness. Happiness is not a prolonged feeling of contentment when everything is going right. I believe it has more to do with the adventure that we find ourselves on, but that is a post for tomorrow.