I have recently been reading a famous novel; George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. This one is truly a classic. The worldview behind this story is both a terrifyingly potential and a not-so-subtle dig at totalitarianism and various forms of societal control. An Orwellian society is one in which fear and hatred dominate. It is a society in which many of the freedoms we still enjoy in the West are diminished or outright annihilated. In this sad story Orwell speaks of a world without a benevolent God or happiness. God has been replaced by the omnipresent Big Brother and happiness is almost non-existent because it is hardly possible and individuals are reduced to instruments in a machine. Doesn’t sound pretty does it? One could write a thesis on the lack of joy in 1984. All that being said; it is here that I start this post because it is only in the valley that we see the top of the mountain clearly.
For this post I have been looking up quotes and I came across this gem; there is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved – George Sand. This line is defiant of all things Orwellian. And it can easily be taken across to Christianity. In Christianity we find more than just a set of rules and moral teachings. In Christianity we find Christ, “the only-begotten of the Father,” who loves each of us. Thus, a relationship is formed. We have a loving God in Christ and a beloved (each of us.) And in humility I make the claim that it is in this that we find our happiness. But, lets back up a bit.
St Thomas Aquinas lists four things that each of us desire in the hope of finding a happy life; power, pleasure, honour and wealth. If you think about it, these four horsemen (if you like) make up a big part of our daily decision making. The desire for power, pleasure, honour and wealth are not exactly bad in themselves, yet, St. Thomas reminds us that searching after the fulfilment of one or more of these desires is not where we will find our fulfilment.
If not in the fulfilment of these human desires, then where? Where do we look in our pursuit of happiness? Maybe it is in our relationships. Maybe finding joy in the communion with others is the answer. Would this then be the pinnacle of the perfect life? Christ claimed that, no, there is a higher and more fulfilling answer. In his famous commandment, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul and all your strength and love your neighbour as yourself” Christ reveals to each of us that our love for God should come first. In the book of Psalms, the psalmist writes, “In your presence is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forever more.” Psalm 16: 11. Then, it may be that it is reasonable to put God in the first place. It may be that this is the answer to our question, the path we are looking for.
Let me ask you a reasonable question, are human beings fulfilling their potential to love one another (the second part of Christ’s command)? Clearly the answer is a no. The truth is, in our struggle to hold strong, loving relationships, there is a perfection that we are all aiming for. Or, to put it another way, a standard of perfect love that we all seek. All of us are flawed human beings and we all cause some degree of hurt to those we love. If you look at it this way, then things start to become clear. We cannot love perfectly in this life which itself reveals to us that there is a standard of love that we are (implicitly or explicitly) trying to attain.
In Christian circles there is a famous quote, “you become what you love.” Then, to love God is to become like him and in becoming like him we will find our identity and our true freedom. This would mean that no human institution, state, family group or individual could achieve this goal for us. If this is true, then, in each of our lives we must aspire to do three things: first to seek God. Then to find God. Then to love God. In this way we will find our happiness.
Today, in our friendship groups and in wider society, it is conformity that is praised. So, to be called a rebel is to conform to what is cool or popular and, thus, conform to the standards of the group! To be truly different or act in anyway outside the box is, then, looked upon as something strange. Thus, in this worldly age of backwards thinking, vices are praised and virtues are treated with contempt or simply ignored. It is good to make a daily examine as to where we ourselves fall in our actions. One can ask oneself, have I sought happiness for others in the small decisions of today or have I fallen into selfishness? If we want to see shining examples of people who lived happy lives one only has to look to the Saints. Contemporary figures like St. John Paul II, Mother Theresa and St. Carlo Acutis give us examples of how to live a truly human and joyful life. These blessed individuals, who were not afraid to stand away from the crowd and state the truth, are models of sanctity because they lived their lives for others, all the while, keeping God as the centre of their lives. Through the example of their lives we see the true road to happiness, a road that leads straight to Christ.
So, it is up to us to decide. Will we satisfy the desires of the present moment, live a life of comfort and follow what is popular in society or will we aim our desires towards a higher goal, towards a state of being where we have both reason and faith on our side and the love of God in our life. It is up to us to decide for we have been left that choice. And in the end, it is this choice that really matters. Our happiness depends on it.
** Extra note: This small post has tried to answer the question ‘how to attain happiness.’ However, I haven’t addressed a momentous issue in every person’s life; pain and suffering. It is possible to be in pain (physical, emotional or even spiritual) and still be happy. There are examples of people who have suffered tremendously and still held a peaceful and even joyful demeanour. In these situations, it is important to seek help from God. Prayer and the sacraments may not change one’s physical situation, but they can be a powerful source of comfort and strength in moments of temptation to despair. This, of course, is for our spiritual needs. Our physical and emotional needs must be met if we are to navigate intense suffering and come out the other side relatively okay. However, there is always hope. Even in the darkest moments. It may be that the suffering that you are going through is necessary for you in this moment. And you might find a greater happiness later on. You never know.