A Happy Seat
“We want you to be happy.”
I was 13 years old, sitting on the edge of my seat asking how. I was given a description of happiness as some sort of “light at the end of the tunnel.”
I was only halfway eager for an answer in that it seemed to be that unhappiness was normal. One had to be lucky to experience happiness- a mysterious essence to be hoarded like gold. However, if anyone in my family appeared to be happy, other members would try to pull them back into the “tunnel.”
Misery loves company, as they say.
Not surprisingly, my teen years were fraught with moral confusion. I guarded goals to obtain happiness like a secret code, and judged the worth of things in life according to personal feel-good-ness. But when I was happy, I felt guilty. After several years of trial and failure, I came home to the Church and realized that meaningfulness, not riches, not the perfect life, is happiness.
We confuse pleasure with happiness. And we are confused from the get-go because we ask the wrong questions. Instead of asking if I am happy with my job; I should ask if my job is meaningful. If millionaires can be unhappy, good wages must not be the key to happiness.
I thought about my family’s comparison of happiness to a “light.” Obscure as the description was, there was something intriguing about it And though it was a vague definition, they were using their reason to make happiness more concrete, more accessible and meaningful. Pope John Paul believed we do not use the reason faculty enough to tackle life’s bigger questions. In Fides Et Ratio (Faith and Reason) he wrote, “reason has wilted under so much knowledge that little by little it has lost the capacity to lift its gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being.” In a nutshell, my family was simply passing on what someone else assumed about happiness. Now I believe meaning is happiness, even when I am unhappy. Happiness is not abnormal; it is not swerving atoms or a stroke of luck.
But still, what constitutes happiness?
There have been many ideas through the ages. Aristotle argued that while most agree happiness is the best good, agreement is not sufficient to make happiness the best good. He believed people who behave virtuously for the good of the community produce happiness. For example, we expect doctors, military personnel, and even grocery clerks to strive for excellence by improving their skills. St. Thomas Aquinas, who excelled in separating the wheat from the chaff in claims of pagan philosophers, agreed with Aristotle’s conclusion that virtue is necessary for a flourishing, happy community.
My former ways did not make me happy, but they compelled me into a search for meaning. I found it in The Way, a life in Christ filled with virtue which results in happiness. For me, a meaningful life includes bringing hope and love to souls at Change Point crisis pregnancy center. I am not a St. Thomas by any means, but in the pillar of Truth, the Church, I sit happily waiting for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom in all things.