Meditations for Layfolks - Happiness

Happiness, to be lasting, must spring from my own soul. If I depend for my joy or my glad view of life on things external to me, it is clear that I am altogether at their mercy, totally dependent on them. If they are with me, well and good; I am as merry as the day is long: but if they are withdrawn, the sky is clouded, and all I meet and all I do has lost its savour. Children may become so enamoured of their toys that they must go to bed with them, else the darkness and the night would become intolerable: so I may well find myself so childish as to depend for my happiness on something external to me which controls my outlook upon existence. A pet animal, a favourite book, a picture, a home, the vast sweep of landscape, sounds of music, perhaps govern me. How foolish to be dominated by some insensate thing! To be in the hands of a cigarette! To fetch and carry for the goddess of a game! My happiness bound up with things that cannot last, or for which my strength or occupations will not always allow me capacity for enjoyment! To be bothered because my hours are interrupted, the order of the day disarranged, the daily routine even momentarily made impossible! such is the incredible littleness to which human nature can descend. But it is not here the pettiness which we must consider, but the effect all this has upon the lastingness of our happiness. It is not that it merely narrows down the vast and widestretching soul to the local boundaries where our happiness lies tethered, but that it is not real happiness at all. I should realize that to achieve happiness that is worth the name, I must take up such an attitude to life that nothing can rob me of it, must hold myself fast to such principles that no contrary or disappointing fact will be able to unsettle me.

The ways to obtain this are manifold. There is the deep sense of the will of God, which makes us realize how everything is from Him and must be borne for His sake because He wills it. Once we are convinced that this world is nothing else than a huge machine working out this divine plan, we grow more patient with life. Or, again, a watchful and fervent devotion to the Sacred Passion puts us at peace with all the world: we see there suffering that is real. It is like a visit to a hospital ward, where there is pain such as we could hardly guess was possible to be endured, yet endured so bravely and so patiently, that we realize the pettiness of our own little troubles and the foolishness of our complaining; so in the Passion we note the innocence of the Victim, yet the terrible nature of the suffering, the physical pain, the mental anguish, the spiritual desolation, the tragedies of friendship, the jeers, the being thought more of a criminal than was a public and dangerous robber. I turn from that; and the contrast between what He has borne for my love and what I cannot put up with for His, makes me see the shame of my own meanness. Or I may think of what His love has meant, of what, indeed, love must always mean, and contrast that high ideal with my failing selfishness. For happiness comes only to those in love, to those who have through love sought only the pleasure of the beloved. But the idea must always be present that the source of happiness that is to last can only be within. Other things may help to fill up the measure of our gladness; but the gladness itself must be of such a kind as no profaning hand can spoil or defile: it must be lifted up above the ebb and flow of the world.

But though the cause of consistent happiness is from within, it is not limited in its effects to the heart whence it springs. There is no virtue so infectious, so missionary, as this virtue of happiness, for it freshens up all who come in contact with it. There are men and women, the sight of whom in the morning brightens the whole day and sends us on our way rejoicing. It is this same lightheartedness and determination to find happiness in every event of life that makes the company of children so delightful. They do, indeed, "brighten every home." Their spirits, their laughter, their mad-cap ways, the frolic of their minds, the amusements they go out to seek and surely find, are reflected irresistibly in those who watch them. My happiness, then, is something which will help to ease the troubles of the world. I must consider it not merely as something which will enable me. to get through life more pleasantly, to work more vigorously, to appreciate the fulness of all the things that are; but as affecting far more than the narrow limits of my own heart. I shall be a missionary to the hearts of others. Saint Philip Neri, Saint Francis of Sales, were full of merriment, and the reading of their lives has done much to promote among men, for that very reason, the love of Christ. Of Saint Dominic we read that the very sight of his joyous countenance restored the fervour of his friars. Even for the psalmist under the old dispensation of fear, the City of God was built on a river that made it "glad." For our own sake, and for the sake of others, above all for the sake of Christ, let us obey the injunction of Saint Paul to be "always rejoicing."

- text taken from Meditations for Layfolk by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.