Believe it or not, we were created for happiness. It’s supposed to be our normal state. As St. John of the Cross teaches, we’re supposed to be happy to the point of “always walking in festivity, inwardly and outwardly.” If this is the case, why are we so unhappy?
In spite of how incredible it might seem, St. John insists that it’s possible, even here on earth, to “enjoy all peace, taste all sweetness, delight in all delight as far as this earthly state allows,” to such a degree that we become “insensible to the disturbances and troubles” of life. In fact, we can reach a state of such bliss that it will seem as if “God has no one else in the world to favor nor anything else to do” but lavish us with His constant attention.
These words might seem like they belong in a New Age self-help book, but they’re actually 500 years old and agree with the sentiments of many other saints and philosophers dating back as far as Aristotle.
“Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee,” St. Augustine once wrote.
The more contemporary theologian, Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange OP, explained it this way: “Man by his very nature desires to be happy . . . The desire for happiness is not a mere hypothetical wish; it is innate . . .”
If this is true, why are so many of us so unhappy?
Although there are many answers to this question, the most common reason is that we mortals have a bad habit of seeking happiness in all the wrong places. The “innate” desire for happiness that Father Lagrange speaks about is not the superficial kind.
It’s not based upon mere pleasurable sensations that are found in possessions or high honors. Even while pursuing these things with the greatest energy, deep down inside we somehow know there’s something more.
This is a deeper and more lasting joy, the kind that can only be found at the point where we reach the summit of our existence and finally realize the purpose for which we were created. It is a summit that can only be found in the heart of the One who created us.
Especially in this culture, such notions are dismissed as pious nonsense, but science has made similar discoveries. For example, a recent Pew poll found that the religiously active person, who tends to be more engaged socially and civically, is also a lot happier this the non-religious person. In the U.S., 36 percent of actively religious people described themselves as “very happy” as opposed to just 25 percent of inactive religious folks.
Anyone who doubts the veracity of this claim need only look at the soaring rates of depression and suicide in the most affluent countries on earth which should be enough to make them think twice before dismissing the idea.
If happiness could be found in things, and we have so many of them in the richest nation in the world, shouldn’t we be a happier people? Why are depression, suicide and addiction rates so high?
As Father Lagrange explains, this could be because we too often seek carnal pleasures at the expense of the spiritual.
“The heart and will have also their profound spiritual needs and so long as these remain unsatisfied there can be no true happiness.”
This is because man is not just a carnal being. He’s also a spiritual being and the spiritual part of himself needs things other than houses, cars, and new job descriptions in order to feel happiness.
How many of us have aspired for that bigger house or car or promotion only to get in and experience a kind of let-down inside?
Deep down inside, we instinctively know there’s more to life than things.
“Is this all there is?” must be the most commonly asked question in the human experience.
We somehow know there’s a higher joy, a higher love, a higher existence, and we continue to pine for it the way the “soul naturally desires to live forever,” Father Lagrange writes.
“Intelligence tells us that not even the simultaneous possession of all these goods, finite and imperfect as they are, can constitute the good itself which is conceived and desired by us, any more than an innumerable multitude of idiots can equal a man of genius.”
In other words, when it comes to true happiness, “Quantity has nothing to say in the matter; it is quality of good that counts here.”
So why do we keep seeking happiness in all the wrong places?
As Fr. Dubay explains in his book, Fire Within, “We are so immersed in our egoism . . .we assume that if we give up our self-centered pursuits we’ll never be happy.”
Nothing could be further from the truth!
In fact, the exact opposite is true. It is when we give up our own idea of happiness – and step outside our little box called “self-love” – that we finally find what we’re looking for.
But letting go is hard, especially in a culture that presents the faithful in such negative ways – as if we’re just a bunch of bumbling backward fanatics
This treatment makes it easy – even for the faithful – to believe that the only people who seek happiness in God are the kind who hide themselves in cloisters all day.
We see them as backward thinking, almost marginal and living on the fringes of life.
Actually, the opposite is more accurate.
The person who is united with God is more alive and engaged in life that the rest of us. Their most outstanding characteristic is not how pious they act or how reclusive they are or how strangely they dress. No, it’s none of those things that we might imagine. What is most distinctive about them is their love. And because theirs is the pure love of Christ, it naturally draws people toward them rather than away from them. Nothing about these people is repelling.
This is because they have undergone a “radical healing, a transformation” that removed the shackles of self-love that kept them chained inside their little box rather than allowing them the freedom to live for love alone.
As Father Dubay explains, “The four passions, the emotions of joy, hope, fear, and sorrow, are well under the guidance of reason and thus lose their excessive and disordered tendencies. All of those small attachments and selfish clingings are nonexistent; preferring this food or drink to that, seeking more gratification in this activity rather than that, desiring the best for oneself, clinging to one’s own preferences. In place of inner turbulence and overwrought feelings there ensues a calm and abiding serenity even in trying circumstances.”
This is not a marginal person.
This is more like a superhuman.
Our history is ripe with evidence that union with God can make us capable of incredible things, even the ability to experience utter joy while suffering the cruelest martyrdom.
If union with God can enable us to be happy and at peace even in the midst of such gruesome tortures, imagine what it can do for us in our ordinary life.
By the time we reach the summit of union with God, we have been freed from the source of all of the misery in our lives – sin.
We will have been completely transformed into a totally new creation – not just an improvement on the old – but someone entirely new.
We will have finally become who we were meant to be.
As Father Dubay writes, “When one is anchored deeply in the divine solution to all problems, outer turmoil cannot disturb the inner tranquility. It is a grace that surpasses all understanding.”
© All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace® http://www.womenofgrace.com
There’s only one way to achieve union with God – prayer and a willingness to achieve it. With God Alone: Contemplative Prayer for Everyday People explains exactly how to achieve this greatest of all human goals.