St. Augustine once wrote: “All persons want to be happy, and no persons are happy who do not have what they want.”
This implies that the things that we choose to desire/obtain have a direct connection with how happy we can be. If we cannot obtain that which we desire, we will be unhappy. By contrast, if what we desire is obtainable, then we truly can strive for happiness.
As important as happiness is, defining it – let alone obtaining it – is much more nuanced then one might expect. Perhaps this is why happiness seems so elusive: is happiness indeed something better pursued than achieved? Witness the diversity of “happiness” as described in the song “Happiness” from the Musical You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown:
Happiness is finding a pencil, Pizza with sausage, Telling the time.
Happiness is learning to whistle, Tying your shoe for the very first time, Happiness is playing the drum in your own school band, And happiness is walking hand in hand.
Happiness is two kinds of ice cream, Knowing a secret Climbing a tree.
Happiness is five different crayons, Catching a firefly, Setting him free. Happiness is being along every now and then, And happiness is coming home again.
Happiness is morning and evening, Daytime and nighttime, too, For happiness is anyone and anything at all, That’s loved by you.
Happiness is having a sister, Sharing a sandwich, Getting along. Happiness is singing together when day is through, And happiness is those who sing with you
Happiness is morning and evening, Daytime and nighttime, too. For happiness is anyone and anything at all. That’s loved by you.
In the end, only one thing can make us truly and eternally happy: the Love of God. However, insofar as grace builds on and through nature, there are practical things that we can pursue – and practice – to enhance and increase the promise of happiness in heaven as well as the experience of happiness on earth.
In his book, The Pursuit of Happiness: Discovering the Pathway to Fulfillment, Well-being and enduring Personal Joy, (1992, Avon Books: ISBN: 0-380-71522-8) David G. Myers, Ph.D. identifies some of the practical things that can help us to experience authentic happiness. Below we offer at least one Salesian reflection that corresponds with each of these traits named by Dr. Myers:
- Fit and healthy bodies
“We are very much exposed to temptation both when our bodies are too pampered and when too run down, for the one makes the body demanding in its softened state and the other desperate with affliction. Just as we cannot support the body when it is too fat, so also it cannot support us when it is too thin…better to have a program that is balanced and in keeping with the duties and tasks of one’s state in life.” (Intro III, Chapter 23)
- Realistic Goals and Expectations
“All we must try for is to make ourselves good men and women, devout men and women, pious men and women. We must try hard to achieve this end. If is pleases God to elevate us to those angelical perfections we shall then be good angels, but in the meantime let us try sincerely, humbly and devoutly to acquire those little virtues whose conquest our Savior has set forth as the end of our care and labor. Such are patience, meekness, self-mortification, humility, obedience, poverty, chastity, tenderness toward of neighbors, bearing with each other’s imperfections, diligence and holy fervor.” (Intro III, Chapter 2)
- Positive Self-Esteem
“Consider the nature God has given us. It is the highest in this visible world. It is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to God’s Divine Majesty.” (Intro I, Chapter 9)
- Feelings of Control
“It is our great happiness to possess our own souls, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls.” (Intro III, Chapter 3)
“As far as possible we should pass favorable judgments on our neighbors. If an action has many different aspects, we must always think of the one which is the best.” (Intro III, Chapter 28)
“Seeking familiar conversations with others and avoiding them are two extremes and both are blameworthy in devout people living in the world. Toa void such discussions shows disdain and contempt of our neighbor; to seek them is a mark of sloth and idleness. We must love our neighbor as ourselves, and to show that we love them we must not shun their company, and to show that we love ourselves we must dwell within ourselves. If you are not obliged to go out into society or entertain at home, remain within yourself and entertain yourself within your heart. If people visit you or if you are called out into society for some just reason, go as one sent by God and visit your neighbor with a benevolent heart and a good intention.” (Intro III, Chapter 24)
- Supportive Friendships
“Perfection consists not in having no friendships, but in having only those which are good, holy and sacred.” (Intro III, Chapter 20)
“Take each other by the hand or under the arms, so that, if one persons slips, the others will hold him/her up, and the others, when they in their turn are on the point of falling, may be held up by their friends.” (Spiritual Conferences III, page 41)
- Socially intimate, sexually warm and equitable marriage
“In marriage there is communication of life, work, goods, affection, and indissoluble fidelity and therefore married friendship is true, holy friendship.” (Intro III, Chapter 17)
“Love and fidelity joined together always produce familiarity and mutual trust, and hence in their married life the saints, both men and women, have used many reciprocal caresses, truly affectionate and chaste, tender, sincere caresses…Although such demonstrations of pure, frank affection do not automatically bind hearts together, they tend to unite them and serve as an agreeable help to their life in common.” (Intro III, Chapter 38)
- Challenging Work and Active Leisure punctuated by adequate rest and retreat
“Be careful and attentive to all the matters God has committed to your care. Since God has confided them to you, God wishes you to have great care for them. However, do not be worried, that it, don’t overexert yourself on them with uneasiness, anxiety and forwardness.” (Intro III, Chapter 10)
“In all your affairs rely wholly on God’s providence through which alone your must work for success. Nevertheless, strive quietly on your part to cooperate with God’s designs…in ordinary affairs and occupations that do not require strict, earnest attention, you should look at God rather than at them. When they are of such importance as to require your whole attention to do them well, then too you should look from time to time at God, like mariners who to arrive at port they are bound for look at the sky above rather than down on the sea on which they sail. Thus God will work with you, in you and for you, and after your labor consolation will follow.” (Ibid)
“Our hearts should each day pick and choose some place…as a retreat where they can retire at various times to refresh and restore themselves during their exterior occupations…Always remember…to retire at various times into the solicitude of your own heart even while outwardly engaged in discussions or transactions with others.” (Intro II, Chapter 12)
“Besides the mental solitude to which you may retreat even in the midst of the highest society, you must also love real, physical solitude. You should remain for some time alone with yourself in your room or garden or some other place. There you will have leisure to withdraw your spirit into your heart and refresh your soul with pious meditations, holy thoughts, or a little spiritual reading…” (Intro III, Chapter 25)
- Faith that includes communal support, purpose, acceptance, outward focus and hope
- Communal support
“This earthly life is only a journey to the happy life to come. We must not grow angry with one another along the way, but rather we must march on as a band of brothers and companions united in meekness, peace and love.” (Intro III, Chapter 8)
“Persevere in this great courage and determination which keeps you lifted high above temporal things, making you pass over them like a happy halcyon bird lifted safely above the waves of the world which flood this age. Keep your eyes steadfastly fixed on that blissful day of eternity towards which the course of years bears us on; and these pass by us stage by stage until we reach the end of the road. In these passing moments there lies enclosed as in a tiny kernel the seed of all eternity, and in our humble little works of devotion there lies hidden the prize of everlasting glory, and the little pains we take to serve God lead to the repose of a bliss than can never end.” (Selected Letters, page 236)
“In all things and through all things you should love your own abjection. In Latin abjection signifies humility and humility means abjection…The chief point of such humility consists not only in willingly admitting our abject state but in loving it and delighting in it.” (Intro III, Chapter 6)
- Outward focus
“In this world nothing but the practice of virtue and devotion can satisfy your soul. See how beautiful they are…Virtues have the wonderful quality of delighting our soul with incomparable sweetness and fragrance after we have practiced them…Courage, then!” (Intro V, Chapter 11)
“Our Lord…wishes us to have such a love for one another that we shall always prefer our neighbor to ourselves…We should do all we can for one another with the exception of losing our soul. With that sole exception, our friendship ought to be so firm. Cordial and solid that we should never refuse to do or suffer anything for our neighbor…” (Spiritual Conference IV, page 57)
“To be rich in effect and poor in affect is a great happiness for a Christian. By this means we have the advantages of riches for this world and the merit of poverty for the world to come.” (Intro III, Chapter 14)
“Since the assurance that God gives us that paradise is ours infinitely strengthens our desire to win it, it weakens and even utterly annihilates the trouble and disquiet that this desire can bring us. Hence by the sacred promises God’s goodness has made us our hearts become and remain completely calm. This calm is the root of that most holy virtue which we call hope…Hope is simply the loving complacence that we take in looking towards and striving for our supreme good…in that good all is love. As soon as faith has shown me my supreme good, I have loved it; since it is absent from me, I have desired it; having learned that it would give itself to me, I have loved it and desired it all the more ardently…” (Treatise Book II, Chapter 16)
- Communal support