Because this is the holiday season, I’ve been thinking about the concept of happiness. This season is packed with symbols that are supposed to bring joy and happiness. Christmas lights and trees, crèches or manger scenes, Santa Claus bringing gifts, and people being extra charitable and full of holiday cheer. But what is happiness really? What does it mean to be happy?
Most would answer that happiness means feeling good about yourself or being content with a situation. These certainly can be included in the definition of happiness, but I always found this definition to be limiting in that it focuses primarily on the self. How I feel or how I consider a situation.
The Christmas message of hope and peace reminds us that happiness does not subsist in the self alone.
Recently, I was listening to a lecture by Peter Kreeft about the Beatitudes and what they say about happiness. He explained that in the traditional scholastic sense, happiness was equivalent to a state of blessing, to being blessed by God. By this definition, happiness does not merely rely on the self, on an individual’s emotions or perceptions, but on the objective reality of God’s love for a person. Happiness then, has God as its primary source.
I am in accord with the more traditional definition of happiness simply because it is more beautiful, theologically and practically. The traditional definition of happiness has generosity at its core unlike the more modern definition which has self-fulfillment (which often leads to selfishness) at its core. God freely gives his love to an individual in the form of a blessing and the reception of this blessing makes the individual blessed, happy. This happiness lasts for as long as God continues to love the person (and according to Christian thought, God always loves the person).
So even in bad situations, by the traditional definition, a person can be happy and blessed because that person is loved by God. The modern, limited definition makes the possibility of achieving happiness much smaller in scope because happiness is based on an individual’s emotions and changing circumstances. And we all know how fickle emotions and circumstances tend to be.
So what makes a person happy today may not make that same person happy tomorrow. I was happy receiving $10 today because I only wanted to go see a movie with friends but I won’t be happy if I receive $10 tomorrow because I want to by a new pair of shoes. How then can we call this true happiness when the source of happiness is subject to so much fluctuation?
I may be in the minority on this, but I am of the opinion that true happiness (blessedness) should be lasting, enduring. Anything less is just passing contentment.