How To Be A Happy Catholic
I grew up in a generation where it was unquestioned your professional goal was to make as much money as possible. Sure, it was nice to like what you did for a living, but most of the things you liked to do didn't pay well. Except for the gifted few, playing sports or acting was risky at best. Politics provided power, but not much money. Watching TV didn't pay at all.
The family depended on the father of the household to provide. If the best job you could get didn't pay enough to meet your family's expenses, you had to find a higher paying job, or work two jobs, or three. You didn't think much about it, you just did it--it was expected.
Times have changed. Playing sports or acting is still risky business; politics still do not pay well (in fact, it may cost you more to win an election than you get back in salary); with the entitlement mentality gaining in popularity, watching TV is starting to pay, but still not well; and most households have all parents providing family income, although many more families are single-parent (hmm, are those two related?).
What remained constant was the unyielding need to make money. People think a little bit more about it now than then, but to most workers, making more money than you are now is akin to driving the ball farther than you can now to a golfer. You just want it.
Let's analyze why we want it. Is it because it is what you were always taught? Maybe. Is it because your spouse nags you endlessly about why you should ask for a raise, and you don't want to put up with it anymore? Maybe. Is it because you think it will make you happier? Now we are latching on to something. If making more money eliminates things that make us unhappy, then we will be happier. Right? Come to think of it, that is really why we want more money, so we can be happier. We just seem to be focusing on making money, and not what it does for us.
Are rich people happier than average people? A lot of us think so. If I had as much money as so-and-so, I would certainly be happier than I am now. But, so-and-so is thinking the same thoughts of their neighbors. And, there are those who look at you and claim the same thing. If they could have as much money as you do, they would be happy. So, something is awry. It appears no matter how much money you have, you can always envision having more will make you happier. Think of Hollywood. There are a lot of rich, yet unhappy people.
Well, money lets me buy things, and things make me happy. So, if you had the same house and cars as so-and-so, as well as their money, you would be happier than you are now, right? Unfortunately, the same analysis applies to someone looking at you.
What about power? ...fame? ...good health? ...good looks? ...more leisure? We can easily find people that have one or more of these things, yet are miserable. Having them alone is not enough. There must be something more.
How To Be A Happy Person
Let's look at what actually makes us happy.
We saw that circumstances alone will not make us happy. Having more money, having fame, having power, having good health, good looks, more leisure, are all good things, but by themselves they will not make us happy.
What we discover is that we are happy when we are happy largely because we choose to be happy--nothing more. And it is even more ironic to learn we are unhappy because we choose not to be happy. Our emotional state of happiness is largely up to our own attitude. (I say largely because attitude alone won't suffice, just like money alone won't suffice.) And note, happiness is not a feeling; it is a state of mind.
Let's look at examples of what contributes to our happiness, and correspondingly to our unhappiness. We can find happiness by satisfying the body, the mind, the heart and the soul.
Body - If we are hungry, we eat and are happy. If we are thirsty, we drink and we are happy. If we feel the need to procreate, we do so and we are happy. If we are cold, we get warm; if we are hot, we get cool and we are happy. If we are tired, we rest. If we itch, we scratch; if we are dry, we moisten; if we are dirty, we clean. We can satisfy needs of the body and become happy, and the happiness can be intense, immediate and easily apparent.
If we are unable to satisfy our bodily needs, we become unhappy. If we are hungry, but cannot eat, we become unhappy (dieters among you can agree). If we are tired, but cannot rest, we become unhappy. Each possible condition of happiness has a corresponding condition of unhappiness.
Note that to become happy at this level, it takes no intellectual fortitude. We eat, we drink, we sleep, we scratch and that produces a certain level of happiness. In fact, thinking about it doesn't help; if you are cold, you are cold regardless of what you think. If there is no reasonable way for you to get warm, you can ignore the cold, and minimize your unhappiness, but not necessarily increase your happiness.
We have bodily needs for a reason. We need nourishment to grow/sustain, so our bodies tell us we are hungry. Note, if we eat to satisfy some reason other than bodily need, there is an unbalance. So, if you eat because you are nervous, or because you have hurt feelings, or because you are trying to be polite, the body becomes out of balance, and you suffer for it. Eating for the aforementioned reasons leads to unhappiness in the end.
Happiness at this level is short-lived. All of our bodily needs seem to repeat themselves at regular intervals. The fact that we ate breakfast and were happy is forgotten by lunch time. This is also true of self-inflicted bodily needs. Drug use provides a fleeting escape from reality that all too soon is gone. Self-inflicted bodily needs not only harm the body, the needs become more intense as you become more addicted.
Mind - The next rung up on the happiness ladder is for mental needs. Indeed, happiness is a state of mind, a function of the intellect. The intellect is a complex thing. Satisfying bodily needs helps create a happy state of mind, but the mind needs more. The mind challenges us and we are happy when we succeed in meeting those challenges. By exercising our thoughts, decisions and efforts, we achieve the happiness the mind seeks.
This includes achievement, winning, approval of others, self-esteem. If you set a goal to wash the car this weekend, then do so, you achieve happiness of the mind because you achieved your goal. If you challenge yourself to win the next card game with your friends, then do so, you achieve happiness of the mind because you won. Similarly, when you challenge yourself to earn the respect of your professional peers, and they give you an award, you achieve happiness of the mind because you obtained their approval. When you run a marathon just to prove to yourself that you can do it, then do so (even if you came in last place), you achieve happiness of the mind because you developed self-esteem by accomplishing something not all of us are willing to endure.
We discover this next level is different from the previous because the happiness lasts longer, goes deeper, and covers more than the last level.
Just as in the last level, each condition of happiness has a corresponding condition of unhappiness. If you set a goal to complete a chore, then are interrupted for any reason, the chore is not completed, and unhappiness results. If you lose at cards, you can become unhappy. If you do not get the award, you might feel rejected by your peers. If you fail to finish the marathon, you may have a lower self-esteem than when you first set the goal.
Depending on the goal you set, achieving that goal may be near impossible, and unhappiness is almost assured. If winning is the only thing, and there are 20 competitors, then there will be 19 unhappy people at the end of the competition. In addition, your mind will conjure more goals. If you won the State title this year, there will always be another one next year. If you scored a 160 in bowling, you can always try for a 170.
Another drawback about happiness of the mind is that it can depend on others. If others are better than us, we lose the competition. As we age, our abilities fade and we no longer are the best at whatever we previously achieved. If others don't respect us, we don't gain their approval. This puts our ability to control our happiness in jeopardy.
Heart - Happiness of the heart focuses your attention from your needs to the needs of others. There are no goals set, so happiness is not dependent on achieving them. There is no competition, so winning is not even at issue. Happiness of the heart is achieved by loving and serving others. There can be great joy in going beyond self.
When you are smitten with someone, you experience a burning desire to do things for them. You want to make them happy, and in doing so, it makes you happy. Parents want to provide for their kids, and would do anything for them. Grandparents want to provide for their grandkids. And it flows the other way when kids want to care for their parents. The love expressed on both sides by hugs and kisses brings more happiness than any State trophy. Soldiers risking their lives for their comrades-in-arms, friends getting together to watch the game on TV, girlfriends having a sleep-over to swap stories and share good times are all examples of heart happiness in action. Donating to charities, volunteering to coach soccer and serving at the local Soup Kitchen are likewise examples. You find great joy in making others happy.
We discover this next level is different from the previous because the happiness lasts longer, goes deeper, and covers more than the last level. And, just like before, for every condition of happiness, there is a corresponding condition of unhappiness.
If your smitten dumps you, you become unhappy. Kids grow up and leave home, maybe even leave the State, and parents don't have someone to shower their affections on. People die and are gone from our lives. Friends move away, or marry and have higher priorities than getting together for a card game. Walk through a nursing home, and this level of unhappiness is pervasive. When we depend on someone and they live up to our expectations, we are elated, when they disappoint us, we are despondent. It goes both ways.
Herein lies the weakness in being heart happy--where we depend on others, we can always experience disappointment.
So far, we categorized three levels of happiness with corresponding levels of unhappiness. Each successive level is different from the previous because the happiness lasts longer, goes deeper, and covers more than the previous level. Happiness can be achieved in all three levels, and we need to recognize what level we are in to act accordingly.
Soul - The ultimate in serving others is to serve God. God does not disappoint. God will not dump you, or ridicule you, or leave you, or die. God will not move away, or marry and forget about you, or think less of you if you don't win. God will always live up to our divine expectations.
We have longings earthly joys just cannot satisfy. When you prepare half your life for winning a gold medal at the Olympics, then you win it, what next? Your happiness is deep, and if relived over and over may last a while, but the preparation was for one moment only, not a lifetime of moments. Life goes on. The longing you had in training is returning, but for what? You may think it is to get another gold medal, so you train again, and get the medal, but then what? Train again? The longing returns, and you have a void to fill.
Your soul longs for relationship with God. Until you recognize this, you will never find true, lasting happiness. God is the quintessential satisfaction. Knowing, loving and serving Him satisfies to a level so far above the other levels, one can experience unhappiness from any one of those levels with detachment. You know you always have God, so how important is it really if you have approval from the popular kids at school? How important is it really if your kids marry and move near the in-laws instead? Your kids still love you, you still love them, you still experience the happiness of that relationship, but you have the quiet confidence your relationship with God will always be there. Not only that, but the enjoyment of all the other levels of happiness synchronizes completely with happiness of the soul.
We discover this next level is different from the previous because the happiness lasts longer, goes deeper, and covers more than the last level. So what is the corresponding unhappiness associated with happiness of the soul?
The only unhappiness we can have at this level is not knowing God. This can take several different forms.
If we don't believe in God at all, we rely solely on the first three levels of happiness, and as we saw, unhappiness is lurking around the corner at every turn. We turn to sex, or drugs, or alcohol for happiness and sink deeper into unhappiness. We rely on the approval of others, and lose our self-esteem when we don't get it. We give of self by volunteering for a good cause, only to have that cause not make a difference. You can be periodically happy, but you can also be periodically unhappy.
If you believe in God, but don't understand Him, you may be disappointed for all the wrong reasons. If you blame God for your suffering, or the death of someone important to you, or making the light turn red just when you were in such a hurry to get somewhere, you will experience a deep unhappiness, not only for what you blame Him for, but also because you now feel you can't trust Him to satisfy, and you are put on the same level as someone who doesn't believe in God at all. In reality, you don't understand God or His will, which doesn't change to suit your needs. You need to change to suit Him.
How To Be A Happy Christian
So we see there are four levels of happiness we can achieve, each with its own degree of elation and deflation. The trick is to control as much of it as you can with your attitude.
You attend your High School reunion. It is summertime. The get together is outdoors in a picturesque setting. Someone went to a lot of trouble to organize the whole thing and get everyone to come.
You arrive appropriately dressed. You immediately notice you feel hot and sticky. You wander over to the Memory Lane bulletin board and glance at the old photographs of everyone, noting there will be a prize for the one who "looks as good as they did in high school". You see a few familiar faces and strike up a conversation. Let's view three different outcomes you can have from this scenario (there are many more than three, for our purposes, we will look at only three).
Your body has a need for relief from the heat. Should you a) go back to your air-conditioned car and sit in comfort for the rest of the event? b) see if you can get enough people to join you going indoors? or c) find a cool drink to help with your discomfort while admiring what great surroundings you are in to help take your mind off of the heat?
Choosing option a) satisfies your bodily need, thus you achieve happiness of the body, but your happiness of the mind suffers because you will not be there to hear when you win the prize, and your happiness of the heart suffers because you are missing the companionship of your old classmates. This choice creates happiness of the body (the lowest level of happiness) at the expense of happiness of the mind and happiness of the heart. In choosing to satisfy the body need only, your attitude prevents you from becoming happier.
Choosing option b) may get the party moved indoors, creating happiness of the body, and your peers respect your opinion because they followed you inside, creating happiness of the mind. But you will certainly dishonor the organizers for their failure in planning the event. In doing so, you lose happiness of the heart because you failed to make them happy. This choice creates happiness of the body and mind only. Again, your attitude prevents you from becoming happier.
Choosing option c) produces the highest level of happiness in you and others. You are uncomfortable, but the cool drink brings some happiness of the body. You challenge yourself to ignore the heat, and you obtain happiness of the mind when you don't let it bother you. You see the bulletin board full of pictures, and are delighted to tell everyone how stately and matured they have become, because you really are happy for them, bringing you happiness of the heart. This option creates minimal happiness of the body, but a good amount of happiness of the mind and a great amount of happiness of the heart.
Your attitude determines the way you look at things, thus your level of happiness. If you seek to maximize the highest level of happiness you can obtain in any situation, you will be the happiest you can be. And the good news is the more you strive for a higher level of happiness, the easier it is to please you. You find delight in the simplest things, such as admiring your surroundings in this example.
Now consider the same scenario as viewed by people who have the love of God in their soul. They have the quiet confidence that God cares for them, God loves them, and God has a greater existence planned for them than they have here on Earth. They naturally go about life with a smile on their faces because life is so great, and every moment is so precious as a gift from God to be enjoyed to the fullest. They are so excited to go to the reunion, so unconcerned with body needs, they don't even notice the heat. They see the bulletin board and could care less about the prize because they are so captivated with seeing the old photographs and how fun it is to remember old times. They see a few familiar faces and can't wait to hear about their lives and loves and hopes. Without thinking about it, they dwell on heart and soul happiness to the exclusion of body and mind happiness. It just comes naturally.
Seems rather utopian, doesn't it? Maybe even a bit naive? Wouldn't it be great if life really was that way, where you exuded happiness most of your waking moments? News flash--it can be just that.
When you experience happiness of the soul, you focus on the divine, not the earthly. It's not that earthly things are unimportant, you just have a better appreciation of the things that are truly important.
Our primary reason for life on Earth is to prepare for everlasting life. We are here as a test, a never ending, life-long test to see where we will spend eternity. Will hitting a home run in a pickup baseball game get us into Heaven? This gives us happiness of the mind. Will feeding the poor get us into Heaven? This gives us happiness of the heart. Will loving God with your whole heart and soul and mind and strength get us into Heaven? This gives us happiness of the soul. But here is the key--if you love God with your whole heart and soul and mind and strength, you view the other levels of happiness in a new way. Feeding the poor is not a chore, it is a delight. Hitting the home run is not the ultimate vanity, it is an opportunity to give God the credit for the exercise of the talents He gave you. It is not about us, it is about Him.
Knowing that happiness of the soul is paramount will not make it so. I can want to love God, but fall short. If I just don't consider social justice a delight, that is an indicator happiness of the soul is not yet fully embraced in my psyche. What can help me cross the barrier?
Overcoming two intellectual habits will help. If you can teach yourself to trust God and obey Him, you are well on your way to perpetual happiness of the soul.
Trusting God means you don't worry about earthly things because you trust He knows and sees all. You may have aches and pains because you are getting old and tired, but you know God sees your suffering, and He respects you for not whining. You may never win a blue ribbon at the State Fair, but you know God sees this and honors your gracious defeat. You may give money to the poor, only to discover they are using it for cigarettes and alcohol, but God knows you had a spirit of giving, regardless of what others think. You see other drivers getting through red lights and speeding and weaving in and out of traffic, all the while not getting a ticket, yet you roll through one stop sign on a deserted country road with no one else around, and you get pulled over. You could complain that life isn't fair, but God sees all. He will take care of the others who seem to getting away with everything. He just needs to test you on this old country road, and you need to pass the test, regardless of others. Trust Him.
Obeying God means you follow His commandments, regardless of what society seems to think is OK. Once you surrender yourself to obedience, life becomes so much easier. You don't have to win a high level debate on moral theology--you only have to obey. You don't have to decide for yourself what is right and wrong--you only have to obey. You don't have to choose a political party, you don't have to be on top of the latest fashions, you don't have to prove your worth to society--you only have to obey. Find God's commandments and obey them.
This combination of trust and obedience stops making you rely on your own resources and starts making you rely on God. If God is in control, I can kick back and follow. If I am not popular, who cares? I trust in God. If I miss out on drunken binges, who cares? I obeyed Him.
With this new found focus on God, the nominal, earthly Christian becomes a happy Christian.
How To Be A Happy Catholic
What is the difference between being a happy Christian and a happy Catholic?
We determined we need to trust and obey God. Trusting Him is identical for Catholics and other Christians. The difference, and it is slight, is in the obedience.
How do you obey God? You discover His commandments and you follow them. We note, however, that there is a different interpretation of what God commands depending on the church you follow. There are not thousands of sides to God's personality; He is one. God's commandments do not change depending on which church you go to. It stands to reason, whichever church has the fullness of God's truth, has the accurate commandments to follow. If you find that church and follow those commandments, you will attain the highest level of happiness attainable by humans.
I propose to you that the Catholic Church, the church founded by Jesus himself, the church that Jesus promised the Gates of the Netherworld would never prevail against, the church that stood fast since the first century, the church that gave us the original apostles, Paul, Mark, Luke, James and the others, the church that decided what was the canon of scripture, the church that gave us all the saints and the traditions and the sacraments, the church Paul told Timothy was the pillar and bulwark of the truth, this church is the Church that has the fullness of God's truth and thus the fullness of His commandments.
Jesus said to Peter, then later to the apostles "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven". Jesus, with authority from God, gave the heads of the Catholic Church the power to bind and loose. You can't get any more truth than that. What the magisterium declares to be true, by God is true. And Jesus said "Whoever listens to you, listens to me, and whoever rejects you, rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me". If you don't listen to the magisterium, you reject Jesus.
Thus, those who obey the commandments of the Catholic Church, obey God more fully. This is why Catholics can be at least slightly happier than other Christians--they have the fullness of truth backing up the commandments they obey.
Do you trust God? Even if you don't understand His ways, you have to admit He knows a lot more than you do, and He has a plan. You are part of that plan. Trust that He has your best interest at heart.
Do you obey God? It is so hard to hand over control of yourself, but once you do, the liberation is exhilarating beyond anything you could ever do for yourself.
What Do The Scriptures Say?
Here are some verses in Scripture that address the issues shown above.Regarding God's plan for us all.
Much of the material in this chapter comes from "The Search For Happiness" with Father Oscar Lukefahr, a Catholic Home Study Course. To find out more about this course in particular, and other courses in general, see the Catholic Home Study web page.
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