Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Happiness and Blessedness

Father John J. Lombardi

I’m now reading an enjoyable book called "Goss National Happiness, " by Arthur Brooks.

Funny title you say? Yes, It is of course, but an applicable one and a take off on the gross national product of what countries do­the produce and output they generate as "economic engines". That relates to part of the book’s agenda: producing more happiness­whether nationally or individually.

Happiness, which comes from the old English word, hap, meaning chance, chance-like­get it?­indicating that happiness is fleeting, especially when it is based only upon external, passing things. (You know this from trial and error of course!)

Now Christians and Catholics hopefully know that happiness is in finding God, living in His Divine Will and following Jesus Christ even when it is difficult. After all He said He will give you a joy which no one can take from us (Jn.16:22) .

Tons of books have been written on this subject and many of them recently. Happiness is a typically American subject since so many here are trained to look for "the good life" and so many outlets and stimulants exist for this very reason.

Ever since Socrates (who said "The unexamined life is not worth living") and before then people have been "looking for happiness" and, as the country song says, in all the wrong places. We could all say: Been there, done that. Let us simply meld a lot of data and books on happiness by saying that it means general "well being in life."

Some of Brook’s book’s findings include:

-Happiness countries: Denmark is at the top of the list along with United States. Why­at least for the USofA?­Because, "When It comes to values, what is true for each of us as individuals is also true for America. These values are faith, family, freedom, nonmaterialism, opportunity, hard work, and charity. These values make up the ecosystem of happiness in America. They were also the vision of our nation’s founders who took happiness very seriously."

-Life with others brings happiness: marriage is the happiness-raiser. Individuals who live alone may grow lonely and downcast, but an-other­spouse or mate­can help offset loneliness and travails. Marriage makes the happiness factor rise.

-Riches can bring moderate happiness but not lots more: people who win lotteries often squander their wealth, while poor persons do not have lots of happiness.

-Empowerment and work: people who are self-directed and in "control of their lives" and who work often are happier. Oppositely, social and governmental programs which direct wealth irresponsibly to others­which often fail­are not guaranteed happiness raisers.

-Conservatives tend to be happier and be more charitable. A little startling but because conservatives generally work hard, have strong ethics and family structures and tend to pass along "happiness genes" to their children (they have more of them), they thereby propagate joy and also charity by giving to others in a consistent way.

-Children and Families: Brooks says that children do not increase happiness of parents­though we Christians and Catholics would disagree. With the challenges that children bring­ financial and otherwise, happiness does not increase. Perhaps this secular perspective is offset by Catholics and Christians who have inbuilt attitudes of sacrifice and see families and children as an inherent-while-sometimes-challenging part of God’s Plan.

In the book, "Happiness: A History," by Darrin McMahon, we learn that happiness according to the Greeks and Romans meant virtue; to early Christians it meant Heaven­another world than this one; to Renaissance scholars it emend learnedness; and to the Enlightenment it meant freedom and dignity of mankind. Meanwhile, Erasmus, the Dutch Middle Age priest sums up happiness for that time­and us today: "All we have to do is to turn our minds to things spiritual and the way to Heaven is a rapid one."

Now, Three principles on Christians and happiness. First principle: Our lives must be rooted in God­"Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all else will be added unto you" (Mt. 6:33). Oppositely, Sic semper transit gloria mundi , the Latin phrase means there goes the glory of the world. It passes by and is fleeting­and the more we base our happiness in the world more sad we will become-because it passes s o quickly away. God is a rock and He does not change or pass away . When we learn to trust in Him as objective, never-changing joy Giver, we will be happier.

Second principle: We must live with others­whether family or groups or communities we cannot gain happiness apart from others. We must be solidarity with others: joy comes when we feed the poor and weep with those in suffering. This is a "weird kind of happiness" which the world or most books will not recommend, but it is God’s Way!

Third Principle; happiness comes from within. We must decide to be happy, upbeat because there are many times when the external world may bring us down. We need have and cultivate inner resolve and strength to be joyful and overcome all externals­lacking or distracting us­to attain a general sense of well being in life.

Moderate happiness: Between the extremes of imperishable happiness and the other extreme of depression, we must be in the radical middle: we shall realize that happiness is ephemeral, changing, and that we can not, for long periods of time, always be totally happy. We thereby accept this world both of tears and joys and all the experiences that it delivers as well as adapting to it to the best of our abilities . We may accept this or fight it. Our total happiness, according to Christians, lies in Heaven--Bliss means it will never end. Let us always seek union with the God-Man Jesus Christ and the joy He gives us--and spread that joy to others along the way.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi