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Friday, July 24, 2009

On Happiness

The Church teaches that happiness comes solely from God, because only God and union with him as such can provide one a truly fulfilling happiness. However, popular wisdom seems to suggest also that one only has to choose to be happy in order to be happy. What are the dynamics of each of these statements and how do they relate to each other?

Happiness as coming solely from God: Nothing on the earth can make us entirely fulfilled or happy. Because we were created for union with an ultimate and infinite being, no immediate and finite pleasure can ever fully satisfy us. This is what Augustine means when he states that “our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.” Therefore, on earth true and absolutely fulfilling happiness is not able to received or attained. However, because the Lord desires to be happy, there must be some way in which we can get the fullness of happiness possible in this earthly life. Since happiness comes through union with Christ, the most obvious way in which we would receive happiness in this life would be through the primary means of union with Christ in this world… through the Sacraments, especially that of the Eucharist and the Holy Mass.

However, even though happiness comes most completely from God, that does not preclude our choice in the matter. Whereas God offers us virtually unlimited and free happiness by means of union with him through the Eucharist, a gift is merely an empty vessel unless it is properly received by the receiver. It like any of the other theological and spiritual gifts or virtues—God freely gives them to us, such as grace, but it is only through our full and willing acceptance of them that we can truly receive them and be transformed by them. This is how we as human persons have a choice in our happiness. We can choose to try to make our own finite happiness, and end up feeling unfulfilled, or we can willfully and joyfully accept the infinite happiness God gives to us and be happy even when are sad or suffering. When we are sad we only need to choose to be suffering with Christ, which is an acceptance of his infinite happiness and a step towards union with him. We need only to receive the Eucharist, which is the most important thing anyone can do each day. Therefore, we need only to praise and love God to be truly happy, for all other things are changing, finite, and in vain.

Therefore, these two ideas of happiness coming from God and human persons choosing to be happy are not contradictory to each other, but merely the choice to be happy is limited to choosing the ultimate and infinite, or choosing the immediate and finite.

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