By Frank Wessling
Is happiness important? Whatever we mean by it, most of us give high value to being happy. The founders of this country declared the “pursuit” of happiness a basic human right, along with liberty and life itself.
As a goal, happiness has even been elevated to divine status. The old Baltimore Catechism that shaped earlier generations of American Catholics said the reason we exist is to know, love, and serve God here on Earth and “be happy” with God in heaven.
Being happy may be a way to talk about our ultimate goal, but the content of that important word, the “what” of it, is so elusive and varied that we refer to “the secret of happiness.”
We can see it in two little girls running barefooted, free and laughing on a warm beach before they tumble into the arms of their parents. We can feel it in the rise of fulfillment as a child of ours is honored for good deeds of any kind. Sometimes it comes in a perfect golf shot. But those moments of satisfaction don’t last. Heaven is not here. We can get hints and previews but they dissolve and the pursuit resumes.
We use money as a measure of value, but that doesn’t seem to work with happiness. It’s hard to be happy without enough for food, decent clothing, shelter, education and a few other necessities of life, but beyond the basics, piling up money brings no happiness. It tends, instead, to feed a habit of self-indulgence that never satisfies. More is never enough on the treadmill of greed.
If there is a secret to happiness it lies in how and where we look. A focus on ourselves is to live as if the mirror image is reality. Being human means being able to look beyond ourselves, even abandoning or transcending self-regard altogether. Our Gospel, our “good news,” is based on that sense of what is most real.
Jesus said some strange things about happiness. Happy are the poor. Happy are you when you give up every thing. He said, “Follow me,” and then gave up everything, including life itself.
From this example we learn that somewhere in self-gift the pursuit of happiness finds its secret.
Since we want to go on living, the question of happiness comes down to balance. How much of our energy goes into acquiring and consuming for ourselves? How much goes into planning and working for others and the common good? When the balance tilts away from ourselves, happiness can settle in. If the balance goes the other way, it shouldn’t be surprising that we get no satisfaction.
We were not made for ourselves alone. We were made for relationship — building to the ultimate relationship. Little children have no trouble understanding this, which may be why they find happiness so natural. Unless we become like them, we won’t find the real kingdom of happiness.
Something to think about while watching the kids enjoy summer.