Someone recently said this to me: “On paper, my life is perfect. I have a family, a house, a nice car and have been successful in my job. But still I feel like something is missing. I should be happy; what am I doing wrong?”
Everybody feels this way at some point, because happiness is such a fundamental part of life. In order to answer this important question, it is essential to make the distinction between four different kinds of happiness. The first type of happiness comes from material possessions and physical things, such as a nice home, a sporty car, entertainment, good food and other things that we experience through our physical senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. These things are good, but if we live for this type of happiness as our highest priority, we eventually become bored and feel empty with these things that we used to enjoy. The problem arises when we live for this type of happiness, rather than just enjoy it.
The second kind of happiness comes from such things as achieving a goal, doing well in playing a musical instrument or participating in a sport, exercising proper authority over people and being liked by others. It is natural to feel good about ourselves when we complete a job, take first place in a contest, make a good decision that affects other people and when we have some very good friends. However, this kind of happiness is fragile. Problems arise, for example, when we become envious by comparing ourselves to others, we disagree with a friend about a serious matter or if we have contempt for those not as successful as we are. A deeper kind of happiness consists of helping others through being with them in empathy, as well as doing acts of kindness. The reason that we are drawn to assist others is because we recognize the unique gift of each person and it makes us feel good inside. We want to show others the love and justice that are due them. This kind of happiness is more enduring, because we can be transformed through helping someone. Further, more is required of us, such as showing generosity and patience. But it also is more fulfilling.
Difficulties can arise because of the imperfect nature of the world. When people are committed to a cause, such as helping their children to receive a good education, their inability to achieve perfection in an imperfect world can leave them disappointed from expectations that were too high. The deepest and most truly satisfying kind of happiness is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ in the Church. A personal relationship with Jesus includes acceptance of His unconditional love. The more that we open ourselves to receive the perfect love that God has for us, the more we find joy and peace in the depths of our hearts — true happiness. And that joy and peace will last forever. We want to place Christ at the center of our lives; otherwise, we run the risk of clinging to imperfect things and people as our ultimate meaning and purpose in life. When we put imperfect things and people ahead of God, eventually our hearts will experience a crisis as we seek a complete and lasting happiness that they simply cannot provide. It is only in Christ that we will find ultimate happiness, as He alone can perfectly fulfill the desires of our heart.
Director, Office of Catechesis and Evangelization
So how do I get there?
If you would like to experience deeper happiness in your life, then the Witnesses for Christ Conference will be well worth your time.
Camille Pauley, national speaker from “Healing the Culture,” will present at the annual Witnesses for Christ Conference, held in La Crosse Aug. 11-12. Go to the diocesan webpage at diolc.org/catechesis/ and click on the banner for the brochure.