THE DISPERSION: 'Happiness Is...'

>> Tuesday, March 4, 2008

'Happiness Is...'

Jim Baron
Feb 26, 2008 5:00 PM

There is a basic principle in the moral life that everyone is searching for happiness. The choices we make for ourselves are often made considering what will make another or ourselves happy, either at that moment or down the road. These decisions range from filling bodily needs (food, water, etc.) to material goods, friendships and love.

There are also individuals who enjoy being miserable, thinking that their "unhappiness" will make them happy. Even bad choices are made with a view to happiness, such as drug and alcohol abuse. The addict will use because one, he is addicted, and two, he believes that the fix will make him happy on some level, just by satiating the craving. Most obvious in the realm of sexual appetites, many individuals spend their lives and resources pursuing impoverished or false means of satisfaction, but this is a whole other article altogether.

The point is that everyone wants to be happy. God made us that way. Everyone can honestly say with St. Augustine, "My heart is restless until it rests in thee."

Just taking a walk down the street, it is fairly easy to tell who is happy, who is searching and who is just plain worn down. Life itself provides many hurdles and bumps that can make a happy life difficult, but as Christians we have been shown a better way. The proverbial "they" say all the time that neither money nor immediate gratification can bring happiness. True. "They" say that a life lived for itself, pursuing only our own wants/goals/desires, is a guaranteed way not to be happy. Also true.

So what is involved in being happy? Many things contribute to one’s overall happiness, but I want to propose three essential aspects of that true happiness we long for. Foremost, life in Christ and his church brings the greatest happiness, but unfortunately too few are convinced by this. So here is an attempt to put it in another perspective.

1) Being able to look at yourself in the mirror. Have a clean and well-informed conscience. This is fundamental to the Christian life and living well. Our God-given conscience is one of our best friends in this life. Unfortunately, many people confuse their conscience for their opinion. We often speak of our conscience as what we would like to be true, not necessarily what is true. Many arguments of conscience come from what someone deems fair or how he or she would like the world to be. This is often the case in hot-topic arguments such as abortion, gay rights and many other moral situations. Sure, one is entitled to his or her opinion but that does not necessarily mean he or she is right.

One’s conscience can be misinformed or even coarsened, making it an "erring" conscience. This happens in a number of ways, such as wrong information, lack of examination, or plain old rationalization of bad choices. If a wrong has been done, denying that it was wrong does not make it so; it’s better just to admit the fault and deal with it. There is great danger in compromising the truth or confusing it with falsehood, which dulls our sense of right and wrong. The conscience must be well acquainted and founded on truth, which is unchangeable and objective. Appreciating a truth that is outside of oneself and ordering one’s life to that is an important step to happiness.

2) Putting in a hard day of work. The happiest people are the ones that give it their all no matter what they do, who "leave it all on the field" so to speak. Sports are a great comparison for the moral life. In a game, only the athlete really knows if he or she put forth their effort. Even if he or she did not succeed, that person still has no regrets.

At the end of the day, it is good to be tired. There is no better night of sleep than going to bed knowing that you really did your best, either at work, study, prayer, sports, family life, or whatever you do. This will also make times of leisure much more relaxing and refreshing. There is great dignity in hard, honest work, be it manual or mental, and investing ourselves into whatever we do. Refer to No. 1.

3) Finally, know thyself. Know your own purpose and vocation. What is God calling you to do? What were you made for? If we seek this, we will be much more happy than chasing our own desires or illusions. A vocation is what God is calling you to do, be it as a priest, nun, husband or a wife.

The great news is that we can test these things out. That is what dating is for; that is what seminary is for. This is called discernment; figuring out what God has in store for us. Each of us has a role to fill in the human community, a state of life that we were made for, and it is important to discern this and be open to God’s will.

If you are a young man or woman, it is important to consider all of your options, religious life or marriage (despite what our friends may say, trust me). If you are married already or in the religious life, it means devoting yourself to that state of life, to your family, religious community or parish. A vocation implies commitment, a choice to give yourself over to and live your life for another. In both cases, refer to Nos. 1 and 2 above.

In short, the happy life is one that is lived with integrity before God and before man, which means living for someone other than ourselves. Jesus, ultimately, is our happiness and this life is supposed to prepare us for one of ultimate happiness in the next.

Happiness does not necessarily mean success or having things come easily, but it is the unaccountable joy in giving yourself away. It is at least worth a shot.



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