Who among you delights in life?” (Psalm 34:12).
In the Declaration of Independence, the Founders of our country boldly stated that everyone possessed the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. We have an inalienable right to be happy.
Happiness is an active area of research, and what has been discovered may surprise you. For example, all established writers who speak of happiness conclude that happiness doesn’t last. They come to see happiness as perilously fragile.
One finds statements like: “I do not believe that any human being can be really happy for long; True happiness comes and goes” or “I don’t think happiness is a lasting thing. I think it’s moments.” Alice McDermott (author of The Ninth Hour) stated that “All happiness is thin ice.” There’s a Chinese proverb that states “We are never happy for a thousand days; flowers bloom for a hundred.” Sigmund Freud, the father of Psychoanalysis, concluded that “nothing can keep us steadfastly happy, we can experience happiness only for brief periods of time.” Freud went so far as to state that “one feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be happy is not included in the plan of creation.” Aristotle said that happiness is like a butterfly which appears and makes us happy for a time, but soon flies away.
Here’s a number of ways people define happiness, answer the question what does it mean to be happy? These are some definitions I relate to:
Thomas Aquinas said that making others happy is the best Happiness. Happiness may be defined as the certainty of being needed. Happiness involves the absence of worry. Happiness is when your plans are going well.
The ancient Greek definition of happiness was to develop one’s powers to achieve excellence in the performance of skilled work, and then have one’s contributions recognized and you take enormous pride in work well done. This implies that happiness takes energy and discipline.
There are many other definitions of happiness.
Friendship is a chief source of happiness. I often asked my classes at Sacred Heart whether or not they thought the people around them were happy. Invariably they answered no. They typically spoke about the lack of meaningful relationships. Everyone around them seemed to be consumed with their success, and fame and fortune.
An interesting question is: what time of life was among your happiest? My young years were among my happiest. I was an excited and happy boy. On summer mornings I couldn’t wait to get out of bed and start going for the day. I used to waken with a burst of joy. And at night I hated to have to sleep again. How I remember the jubilation of the last day of school. All the happiness behind me. Many people locate their happiest days in the past. When I asked a friend what was his advice for a happy life, he said “Don’t grow up.”
Plenty of research bears out something I’m personally convinced of- namely that happiness generally will not be sensational, but filled with small delights. The truly happy person is one who realizes the happiness of the moment, savors the simple joys of daily life, finds happiness in passing moments. This is the teaching of the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. Qoheleth (the Teacher) concludes that true happiness is not possible except in brief snatches that should be treasured as gifts from God. Eccl. 5:17: “Here is what I recognize as good; it is well for a man to eat and drink and enjoy all the fruits of his labor under the sun during the limited days of the life which God gives him; for this is his lot.” These words run like a refrain throughout the book. True happiness lies with the small, the expected, the familiar. How little we actually need in order to be happy. The columnist Andy Rooney wrote: “Life is best when it is filled with small pleasures. The big ones don’t last.” There are the daily quiet joys, the small, the expected, the familiar. We find happiness in passing moments.
Here’s one of my moments. It was dusk and I was pulling my younger sister on her sled. There were kindly lights from neighboring houses. I can still hear my sister’s laughter. I felt so wonderfully alive.
When it comes to happiness, one size does not fit all. We are not specifically happy like everybody else. It must be in our own way. People experience happiness in different ways. For me, happiness involves the books, the recliner, the occasional hot tea, and the sound of rain in the background.
Happiness is primarily an inner state, an inner achievement. Marcus Aurelius (the last Good Emperor of Rome, reign 161- 180 AD) wrote “to live happily is an inward power of the soul.” Abraham Lincoln said: “Most folks are about as happy they make up their mind to be.”
God alone can make us truly happy. Life apart from God lacks genuine joy, and no amount of self-indulgence can be a substitute. C.S. Lewis asserted that the primary purpose of our lives in this world is to establish a relationship with God who placed us here. Until that relationship is established, all our attempts to attain happiness will fall short, that certain longing will never be satisfied. Obedience to the will of God makes someone happy. To seek God brings happiness. It is for this we were called into being. The human soul is drawn to God. True satisfaction is found in spiritual things. There’s the famous statement by Graham Greene, “he knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted—to be a saint.” (The Power and Glory, p. 210)
Finally, I’m afraid it’s true that we can’t have happiness without sorrow; they are inseparable.
Luke 6:21: “Blessed are you who weep now, you shall laugh.”