“Dad, if you had to choose between happiness and having a million dollars, which would you choose?”
This question came from my eight-year-old son right smack dab in the middle of bath time. Here I am trying to dry off my wriggling three-year-old, my one year old who is still in the tub is basically splashing all the remaining water all over the floor, and my oldest (the one who asked the question) is brushing his teeth.
Talk about coming out of nowhere.
But to be honest, I wasn’t all that surprised by the question.
The third question of the Baltimore Catechism (Revised Edition, 1941) asks, “Why did God make us?”
The answer: “God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.”
The Church emphasizes it over and over again: we are made to share in the everlasting happiness of God. Happiness is a desire written on our hearts that’s meant to lead us back to him.
So, I wasn’t surprised by my son’s question. Even at such a young age he was already feeling that desire and trying to figure it out.
The Two Essential Questions
I think there are two essential questions when it comes to our pursuit of happiness.
1. Does God want us to be happy?
First, we have to understand this desire, whether or not it is good, and what it means for our daily lives as Catholics. If you want to read up on this first question I suggest you check out this article: “Does God want us to be happy?“
But once we have figured out the first question we quickly move onto the next:
2. How do I find happiness?
The first is what, the second is how. It’s a natural progression. The first question is pretty simple to get past. You want to be happy, I want to be happy, everyone wants to be happy. Knowing that God also wants us to be happy is easy to digest, because it’s the answer we want to hear.
But that second question? There’s the rub. This one’s a little bit more difficult to figure out.
What Is Real Happiness?
Real happiness is a question that plagues the hearts and minds of man, and it has for centuries. There are scientific studies about happiness and philosophical discourses on the topic that go back thousands of years.
The best answer to this question is understood in the context of time.
Eating an ice cream cone will make me happy for five minutes.
Taking a nap will make me happy for a half hour.
Getting a new car will make me happy for a few months.
Being a dad has brought me happiness over and over again for years, but it’s not constant.
Being happy is easy, but being eternally happy is not so easy. And that’s our ultimate goal. That’s what real happiness is. Being with God in heaven is the definition of long-term happiness (because heaven is—well—eternal).
What about All That Short-Term Stuff?
That short term stuff isn’t bad. Just because the ultimate goal is to be happy with God in heaven, that doesn’t mean he wants us to be miserable here on earth.
But there is danger in the short-term stuff.
Matthew 6:19-21 says:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”
The danger in the shorter-term happiness is getting trapped in it and losing sight of the ultimate goal. There is a name for trading happiness in heaven for happiness here on earth, but we don’t often think of it this way:
Sin is something you probably want to avoid. I’m no saint, but I think any basic understanding of the gospel makes that pretty clear.
What Does Happiness Look Like?
If you’re going to find happiness, you have to know what it looks like.
It seems like most of the time our approach to searching for happiness can be summed up by an old story about Charlie Brown from Peanuts where he keeps missing the bullseye.
Lucy stops by while Charlie Brown is practicing archery in his backyard and is amazed to see that every target has a hole right in the bullseye. Impressed, she asks Charlie to demonstrate his skills. Charlie raises his bow and fires an arrow into the fence, nowhere close to any of the bullseyes. Then he walks forward and draws a target around his arrow.
Befuddled, Lucy asks, “Charlie Brown, what are you doing?”
Charlie answers, “I’m making sure I never miss!”
When it comes to happiness, most of us keep missing the mark like Charlie Brown. Then we just redefine it based on what we think happiness should be. We do things that we think will make us happy (but they don’t) or we know exactly what will make us happy (but we don’t do them) or—and this is the most bizarre—we do things we know will absolutely not make us happy.
So what does happiness look like?
Simple: happiness looks like God.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, Rejoice.”Phillippians 4:4
Happiness looks like God. No matter your situation, no matter your circumstances, no matter your background or struggles or fears—no matter what—find God and you’ll find happiness.
How Do I Find Happiness?
Find God in every moment. I know it’s easier said than done. But feeling happy is also easier said than done, and if you’re going to struggle with something, you might as well struggle with the right something!
Struggling to feel happy will lead you to a lot of fruitless searching. But struggling to find God in every moment will mean you’re on the right path, the path to happiness.
Here’s a few ways you can begin to find God in every moment:
- Say, “God is here” as often as possible. Even under your breath or just inside your head. Allow it to become a mantra in your spiritual life. In every moment, every situation, remind yourself: God is here.
- Pray while you breathe. The breath prayer is one of the simplest and most powerful forms of prayer. When you encounter a difficult moment take one deep breath. As you breathe in, thank God for the moment. As you breathe out, ask God to guide you through it. Simple, but powerful.
- Read your Bible. The more you get to know God, the easier he will be to find in the everyday. And the best way to get to know God is to read his book.
- Do an examination of consciousness. Don’t confuse this with the examination of conscience, which examines the decisions you made throughout the day. Also known as the Daily Examen and popularized by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the examination of consciousness invites you to take a few minutes at the end of your day, quiet your mind, and relive the day hour by hour, taking special note of when you felt God’s presence, and when you didn’t. If you get in the habit of a daily examination of consciousness you’ll start to see God’s movements like you never have before.
One Last Truth
Finding happiness means finding God, but God isn’t hiding. Finding God is simple, but simple doesn’t always mean easy. Each of the four steps above are simple and will help you find God in every moment of your day, but developing the habits to turn to those simple steps throughout your day will take discipline and focus. But the reward is great. When you find God, you can find happiness in every moment, even moments of suffering.
When you train yourself to find God, you’ll find the happiness that abounds in every moment.
So what did I say to my son that night?
“Son, if I have God, I’ll be as happy as I can be, with or without a million dollars.”
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You May Also Like:
Empathy, Conscience, and Prayer on the Road to Happiness
Delayed Gratification Is One of the Greatest Markers of Happiness
Why Joy Is More Christian than Happiness
Dominick Albano is a nationally sought-after speaker, having spoken at countless men’s conferences, parish missions, and other parish events. His podcast, The Best Catholic Podcast, features interviews with some of the spiritual greats of our time. He lives in Northern Kentucky with his wife and their four sons. Learn more about him and his ministry at dominickalbano.com.
Featured photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash