WHAT makes a person happy? Where does happiness come from?
Does it rest in external sources? In money? In food? In physical or sexual pleasure?
What about the happiness of one’s soul?
According to St Thomas Aquinas, happiness is the thing itself that we desire to attain. It includes the attainment and the use or enjoyment of the thing desired. Happiness is joy in possessing integrity at the core of one’s being. Happiness is the final purpose in life, the attainment of the “perfect good” (Summa Theologiae).
The quest for happiness controls every other decision a person makes.
Jesuit Fr Robert Spitzer outlines four levels of happiness:
On the first level, happiness comes from external sources: from a good meal or movie, a sports event, a concert. These externals are centred on the self. They give fleeting pleasure and fail to challenge the person experiencing them.
Therefore, one must ask: Can I find happiness on this level? Can I live solely for food, the ease and comfort of money and the company of people?
The second level of happiness is gratification of the self. Happiness shifts from the outside to one’s inner world. This happiness comes from academic or financial achievement, position or prestige.
Here a person is the centre of attraction that often leads to admiration and popularity – things that can give him control and power over others.
By choosing to live on this level, thoughts are focused on the self, and in advancing self-interests for their own sake, in comparing and contrasting himself with others, he plays the ego game.
If a person ascends to the third level, however, the self is turned outward to others. When he allows others to make demands on his gifts and time, energy and patience, he brings happiness to them, wishes them the good he wishes to himself.
This builds up the culture of love, one person at a time.
This other-centred life energises the person on the third level as he or she chooses to evoke the best in others. Living on this level becomes a habit, even an instinct. It endures forever.
In giving happiness, happiness is received.
Read Jesuit Fr Walter Ciszek’s two books, With God in Russia and He Leadeth Me. Also read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.
Both men were imprisoned and suffered in concentration camps: Fr Ciszek in Soviet prisons and Frankl, an Austrian-Jew and neurological psychiatrist, in various Nazi concentration camps. Both lived on the third level of happiness, purposefully, in the sacrament of the present moment.
At the fourth level of happiness, a person realises that God is his or her “perfect good”, delight and beauty, and truth for today and always.
It is God who gives complete intelligibility to life. Tortured questions may invade the heart, but no matter what the question is, the triune God, revealed in Jesus Christ, is the answer to this person’s hopes, pleadings and questions.
The Word of the Father, the God-man, lived and died for everyone.
With St Augustine, people on this fourth level can pray in earnest: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee,” and “late have I loved thee, O Beauty, ever ancient, ever new; late have I loved thee” (Confessions, Chapters 1 and 10). - CNS
By Sr Joan Roccasalvo, CSJ
Sr Roccasalvo, of the Sisters of St Joseph, Brentwood, New York, writes on liturgy, beauty, the arts and Ignatian spirituality.