Happiness

November 30, 2007

The book I am reading, Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert, is simply a must read.

I have a lot to say about it, but we are closing out the semester and so I am swamped.

What I will say today is pretty simple but astounding, as is most of the book:

Happiness is important.  I remember once, in high school French class, when you have conversations about just about anything so that you can just practice talking, that we had a conversation about happiness.  We had just learned the word ‘happiness’ in French, and so my teacher went around and asked various people (in French) whether they thought the point of life was to achieve happiness.  It was a question I had never considered.  Obviously it left an impression.

Now I don’t know if happiness is the point of life of not, but it certainly seems to be important.  That seems to be something counterintuitive in our puritan American culture.  I’m talking about true, deep, contentment– not a passing and transitory mood.  True happiness is a state of being.

Interestingly, the beatitudes play on this.  The greek word makarios, used in the beatitudes and elsewhere, is sometimes translated into English as “happy”– and sometimes as “blessed.”  You know, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…”… or “Happy are the poor in spirit…”

Interesting…

But my main point from the book is this:

Gilbert says essentially that happiness is not sheer luck.  She is not talking about providence either, although she does not ignore it.  She says that happiness is the result of hard personal work.

This is the sentence that pulls it all together for me in describing how to accomplish happiness:  “You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings.”

That’s powerful stuff.  That’s doxology.  That’s worship.  That’s praise and thanksgiving.  Good stuff.

Unfortunately, one of the downsides of living in a liturgical tradition in my experience is that it is easy to think “that stuff” is only for formal liturgical worship.  Of course the point of liturgy is to connect with the rest of our lives.  If we do not carry the liturgy with us into our daily lives, into every living moment, we lose something.  We have to participate not only in the formal liturgical moments, but participate relentlessly— participate in every moment, in every blessing given to us, every breath, every ray of sunshine, every drop of rain, and everything in between.  Each of those moments is its own doxology: Glory to God!

Gilbert doesn’t stop there with happiness.  She says that happiness may, in fact, be the point. That lack of happiness and contentment is what causes the world’s misery.  What if Stalin had been happy?  Hitler?  Pilate?

Amazing.  Happy is a much more powerful thing, perhaps, than I contemplated in 10th grade French class.  How much I have grown in the 15 or 20 years since 10th grade!  Glory to God!

j

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