- Live well. It sounds obvious right? But it’s worth saying as a starting point, that happiness will follow from living well.
- Live consciously. This ties into my first point, because you need to figure out what it means in practice to live well, and because you need to become conscious of where you aren’t living well so that you can correct it. Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. Don’t live on autopilot.
- Move forwards. That is, make your life better each day. Put in work each day to grow, to learn, to deepen your relationships, to help a friend, to make your life a little easier, whatever. Just keep moving forwards making things better. These things add up, and they have meaning.
- Face your problems. This goes back to point 2 and 3. Identify your problems and their roots as much as you can, and find ways to proactively address them bit by bit. Don’t ignore a problem or put off facing it, because it won’t go away.
- Love yourself. Self love provides a certain unity to your own soul, which is the basis for all love and friendship with others, according to St Thomas Aquinas.
- Trust entirely in Providence. Everything that happens is part of God’s will, and is therefore good. We ought to accept all things, good and bad, that come to us as being directly from God’s hand and give Him thanks for all of it. Especially for suffering, because it means God is bringing us some great blessing that will more than make up for the suffering.
- Life is a gift: be grateful and enjoy it. The worst ingratitude is to receive a gift and not enjoy it. Gratitude is arguably the centre of our faith. The word “Eucharist” means thanksgiving, and it’s our great sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, offering up all of our lives and the whole cosmos in union with Jesus, in joyful thanksgiving.
What is happiness?
I had the shocking realisation a while back, that I didn’t know how to define happiness in a satisfactory way. I know that I have been happy, but what does that mean?
Is it having my desires fulfilled? Yes, but no… It has to be about more than my own will, or it is arbitrary, and I cannot be truly satisfied by something arbitrary. Is it feeling like smiling? Yes, but no… Happiness must be something more than its outward expression.
I looked it up in the dictionary, but was sorely disappointed. Finally, I have concluded that happiness is the (subjective) experience of (objective) goodness. I feel silly it took me days to work out.
This raises the question, what is goodness? I think the only decent answer to this is, that all things that are, are good, and “goodness and being are really the same, and differ only in idea” [Summa Theologica I, Q5, Art1]. (Goodness is being considered under the aspect of desire, and resides in things in so far as they are perfect, since we desire things as far as they are perfect.)
We either define goodness in terms of happiness, in which case both will be empty, and we will be miserable, or define happiness in terms of goodness, and find true happiness beyond ourselves.
So happiness is the experience of goodness, or even, the experience of being itself. Put this way, it seems absurd to ever not be happy. Why are we unhappy sometimes? Firstly, because we fail to experience. We hollow out reality, objectifying it, seeing everyone and everything only in terms of our own fears and desires, rather than loving each person/thing in themselves. We live in an illusion, and separate ourselves from reality. This is sin.
Secondly, we experience imperfection, the absence of goodness, and the brokenness of creation. Things are not as they were meant to be; we are not as we are meant to be. All things are good, but all are broken goods.
But by His life and death and resurrection Jesus Christ has overcome all unhappiness. He united Himself to us and to all in perfect love, giving Himself to us upon the Cross, suffering all of our sins, and offering us in His love to the Father. Then by that same love, that same offering, He defeated death, and rose from the grave, resurrecting all creation with Him. He has given us the absolute fulness of life. If we allow Him to love us, to unite Himself to us, we are set free from sin, and suffering itself becomes a way to unite ourselves with Jesus, uniting Himself to all and offering all to God. Evil itself has been turned to good. Jesus has won us perfect happiness.
We have access to true, divine happiness even now through Jesus, and will one day enjoy God’s own absolute, perfect happiness. By His cross and resurrection, He has set us free!
God bless you, and (sorry it’s late) happy Easter!
P.S. This wasn’t intended to be a Christian/Easter post, but it seems I can’t help myself
P.P.S. I find it strange it took me so long to find what happiness is, and wonder if it reflects how much I’ve absorbed a culture of meaninglessness…