Where to find full, real, lasting happiness

(Image: Photo by Matt Sclarandis on Unsplash)

11 min • November 20, 2021

Everyone wants to be happy. It’s built into us. But we don’t always know where to find happiness. Sometimes we just don’t feel happy no matter what we do. But the good news is that happiness is not far from us, in fact almost all we need is a perspective change!

The Saints were happy even when bad things were happening to them. They were happy consistently, in good and bad times. They were happy when there seemed to be no good reason to be happy, and while everyone around them was baffled by it.

Because they knew a secret: happiness comes from God, and God doesn’t run out of happiness, and he wants to make us happy!

So then, why do we so often find ourselves unhappy? Can’t we just say “God please make me happy” and it’ll be done?

Actually, yeah. Because God always answers prayers. But not always immediately, and not always in the way you expect or want him to.

Consider this example. A man wants a soda from a vending machine. He wants it badly. But his coin got stuck in the machine! So this silly man, what does he do? He actually reaches into the vending machine. He tries to get his arm up the little thing on the bottom, but of course it doesn’t fit. Now his arm is stuck!

This man started out unhappy. He wanted that soda. Then he got more unhappy when the coin got stuck in the machine. Then he got even more unhappy when his arm got stuck too. He just can’t seem to catch a break!

But consider this: the soda wasn’t going to make him happy. It would give him a little pleasure for a few minutes, but it wouldn’t be lasting. Otherwise, wouldn’t he have been happy with the soda he had just an hour before? (And yes, he had a soda just an hour before this.) But he completely forgot that happiness.

Or rather, he didn’t forget it, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to think to himself, “hmm, I’m not happy, and I was happy while I drank that soda, so I’ll go get another one.” The soda made him slightly happy for a short while, but all it left him with was a stronger desire for happiness.

In fact, after having his first soda, he came out less happy than he was before he had any soda at all! Because now, he seems to think he can’t be happy without a soda! He seems to think the soda is going to make him happy, completely forgetting that after drinking it, he’s going to be unhappy again!

Or maybe he knows it, but he just wants a distraction for a short while from the fact that he’s not happy, and the sugary drink is going to give him exactly that, and he knows it.

So, from this desire to get his happiness from only 12 fl oz of heavily sugared carbonated water, he (1) spent time walking to the vending machine, (2) spent money in the vending machine, (3) lost that money in the vending machine, and (4) got his arm stuck in the vending machine! Things only got worse and worse from the start!

Maybe God was trying to tell him something when the coin got stuck? Maybe he was trying to say, “friend, your happiness isn’t going to be found in that soda.” He should have been listening to the facts and the events, listening to what God was trying to tell him through the circumstances.

Isn’t this what we all do, every time we try to make ourselves happy? Whenever we read comic books, or watch TV, or binge on food, or get drunk, or go to parties, or spend whole nights scouring the internet, or waste whole days glued to Facebook. We’re looking for that happiness that we clearly recognize we don’t have.

And why don’t we have it? Because it comes from Creator, not from the things he created!

In the Bible, St. John says we’re looking for happiness in “the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.” Saints and learned authors have explained that this means pleasures, riches, and honors; the 3 things we look for our happiness in.

But St. John right afterwards says that these things are fleeting, that they pass away, that we can’t bring them with us to the next life. So holding onto something so fleeting is obviously bound to make us unhappy!

As St. Peter puts it in the Bible, “since all things will be dissolved by fire, what kind of lives ought you to live in holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the day of God?” Our first Pope was trying to remind us that this world is not our home!

There’s nothing wrong with the things of this world. God created everything, and he created everything good. It’s all good for us. But only if we use it for the right reasons.

That’s where we go wrong. We start with the wrong purpose, the wrong reason, the wrong intent. We start by trying to make ourselves happy.

That’s not possible! God is the source of all happiness, and he’s the only one who can make us happy!

As St. Augustine put it, “our hearts are restless until they find rest in You oh Lord.” Our hearts were made for God. They can’t be happy with anything else except God.

And why? Because our hearts long for love. That’s the only thing that really makes us happy. Love. And God is Infinite Love. Our hearts need a source of infinite happiness, and God is the only source that will work.

Our hearts are like a balloon that can’t stay inflated. And every time we try to inflate it ourselves, we can only fill it up a little, and then we get lightheaded and dizzy, or even pass out. But God is like the air pump that can not only fill it up quickly and easily, but keep it perfectly inflated indefinitely.

Consider the lives of the Saints. They did all the same things we do.

St. Thomas More ate, drank, and was married. But he didn’t use these things to try to make himself happy. Rather, he served God by serving his family, and God allowed him to enjoy the pleasures of an ordinary family life to give him a glimpse into the happiness of eternal life. It was God who was directly making St. Thomas happy in his heart, and these earthly pleasures were only the icing on the cake.

St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Teresa of Avila went from reading worldly books for their own entertainment—and inevitably being unsatisfied after the book was done, left wanting more (not Thomas More, although he was undoubtedly very good company)—to eventually reading holy books which filled their souls with a much deeper and lasting happiness. They continued to read, but for different reasons than before. St. Teresa now read to cure her from her sins. St. Ignatius now studied for years to gain a legitimate education that would give his important message its much needed credibility in the Church.

St. Francis de Sales talked often with his friends in the Church and in high society. It wasn’t to “kill time” though, nor to impress them for his reputation’s sake, but rather to encourage them, to inspire them, to share with them the love of God he had, and any perspective or insight he had received from God that might also help them.

St. Paul made tents! He actually worked, and provided for his own financial needs, while he was preaching the Gospel in new lands, in order to avoid burdening them with tithing, while some of these new converts were seemingly still too fresh in their faith to handle it. He didn’t mind working. He also didn’t do it so he could afford to just sit down with a beer at the end of a hard day and just unwind. He did it as a labor of love for God, and for these souls who God loved, who therefore he resolved also to love as his own dear children.

These Saints did the same things that we do. But for different reasons. And they were happy. But not because they did these things. Rather, they did these things because they were happy, and because God loved them, and they loved God, and wanted to please God, and God wanted them to do these things. So they did them.

There’s an important connection in all these Saints. They were filled with the love of God, and therefore they served others out of love. The love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable.

Jesus Himself told us that the two greatest commandments, in fact the ones that all the Law and Prophets depended on, was (a) to love God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul, and all your strength, and after this, to (b) love your neighbor as yourself.

The Church has explained thoroughly that this means we should love God first and foremost, and then love others through God. That is, love them because God made them, because God is in them, because God loves them, and because God commanded us to love them.

And by this love, we will serve them. Jesus connects this directly to serving Him. “Amen, amen, I say to you: whatever you do to the least of these my brethren, you do it to me.” So when we give a cup of cold water to a child, or help a sick family member, or encourage someone who is sad or overwhelmed, we are serving Jesus Himself.

This is why the Saints served others so often. Because they loved God. And to love God means to love others. And to love others means to serve them.

This is also why they preached the Gospel so often, went through so much pains, even death and imprisonment, in order to make God’s love known to all nations through preaching Jesus. This is why St. Francis Xavier baptized so many people that he literally couldn’t lift his arms anymore.

This is also why they loved Mass so much, because being at Mass is directly serving God. And receiving Holy Communion is directly receiving Jesus, God the Son into our souls and hearts, where he remakes us into new creations, and gives us new hearts.

All these things the Saints did, they did because they loved God. This love made them want to serve God and serve others. And through serving God and neighbor, they were made happy. God made sure of it. After all, He’s always more generous towards us than we are towards Him!

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