Finding True Happiness

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The ultimate end that all human beings desire is happiness. This desire drives almost everything we do. We often focus on the wrong things hoping that they will be the source of our happiness though. For example, many think that things will make them happy. If we begin to think that the acquisition of material things of any, or all kinds, is the only source of our happiness, we tend to fall into a variety of existential crises. We begin to act and think as if we can never have enough money, or enough toys, or enough of good food, etc., so we give all of our energy to getting more and more, even doing ‘whatever is necessary,’ good or bad, to acquire it and, yet, we are never satisfied. Ultimately, if we are lucky, or graced, we realize that such pursuits are not real, or lasting sources of happiness.

Another source that we look to for happiness is in achievement, success, or recognition. We like the feeling of succeeding, of achieving and being rewarded for these things. This is natural. But if we come to believe that this is the only source of our happiness, we eventually fall into the crisis side of this level of happiness and start playing one of two games: the comparison game, or the competition game. In the comparison game, we compare ourselves to others. If we compare ourselves as better than others, we begin to treat them out of that arrogance. More often than not, though, we compare ourselves as not as good as others. This causes reactions in us like jealousy, bitterness, anger, even rage. These are not sources of happiness. In the competition game there can only be one winner; everyone else has to be a loser. We will do anything to remain number one, to be recognized as the handsomest, the most beautiful, the fastest, the richest, etc.. Those who are not number one want to be number one and the one who is has to do whatever is necessary to keep ahead. Imagine a home, or a work environment like this. Maybe it is not hard to imagine, because, in reality, most people are stuck in the crisis sides of these two levels of happiness. And they are not happy. The thing that unites these first two levels of happiness is their focus: the ego. It is all about ʺme.ʺ

As we grow in maturity, we begin to realize that we are happiest when we are in the presence of others, when we begin to be able to sacrifice our own immediate needs in recognition of the greater needs of the other. We begin to experience the deeper pleasures that come from serving others, and making a difference for the good in the world. We have finally begun to recognize that the happiness we experience at this level is deeper, longer lasting, more satisfying. This happiness is the result of our finally being able, when called upon, to forget ourselves out of love for the other. This is the result of a maturing soul and character. We are finally seeing the true value and purpose of relationships, of giving rather than receiving. But there is a crisis side to this level of happiness too. We want perfect love, perfect friendship, perfect home, perfect justice, and so on. But perfection is not within our competency. Inevitably the one we love, will fail us in some way. Or we will fall short of ‘perfection’ and fail them. This hurts. When this happens, we have a tendency to retreat back into one of the first two levels of happiness. And, again, happiness eludes us. This is where our Christian faith becomes our greatest aid. We know that we fail, that all human beings fail. We also know, because of the Incarnation of Christ, that God loves us. We know also that when we turn to him for forgiveness and the grace to pick ourselves up again and carry on, both forgiveness and grace will be there, unconditionally.

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The final level of happiness has no crisis side. We encounter this level of happiness when we come to know in faith that God is the only source of our truest happiness. He will never fail us. When we have fallen in love with God we need nothing else, our happiness is complete. When this happens we see the face of Jesus in our neighbors and we begin to treat them, as we would have them treat us. We begin to love them as Jesus loves us. Yes, we will still be imperfect lovers, but we know that we will always have an advocate in Jesus. Our happiness is not damaged even when we fail, for it is in our love for him that we recognize our failure, and it is through him that we find our healing. When God becomes the focus of our lives, we begin to know the possibility and the reality of true happiness.

ʺNow, children, listen to me;
Happy are they who keep my ways.
Listen to instruction and grow wise,
Do not reject it!
Happy the one who listens to me,
Attending daily at my gates,
Keeping watch at my doorposts;
For whoever finds me finds life,
And wins favor from the Lord;
But those who pass me by do violence to themselves;
All who hate me love death.ʺ (Proverbs 8: 32-37

Lord, help us to know, to love, and to serve you in this world, so that we may be with you forever in the next. Heal our deepest wounds, relieve our greatest fears, strengthen us where we are weak. We ask this in your name, Jesus. Amen.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.