Happiness is a choice

Yme Woensdregt looks at what it takes to be truly happy in life.

I loved reading comics in the paper such as “Peanuts” and “Calvin and Hobbes” and “Doonesbury”. The authors have died or retired, or the Townsman doesn’t carry them; I miss their trenchant and accurate observations about life.

One Peanuts cartoon has Lucy asking Charlie Brown, “Why do you think we were put on earth?”

Charlie answers, “To make others happy.”

Lucy replies, “I don’t think I’m making anyone happy.” Then she adds, “But nobody’s making me very happy either. Somebody’s not doing his job!”

People like Lucy are so sure they will be happy once they get something — a new “this” or an improved “that” or the “other thing” with all the bells and whistles. If only they could get one of them, they’d be happy.

They don’t ask what they can do for others; their concern is to make sure that others do for them whatever they want. They often feel shortchanged or cheated. They become so preoccupied with what they don’t have that they can’t enjoy what they do have.

What’s more, they don’t realize one of the best ways to be happy is to experience the joy and self-worth of making others happy.

In his book “Happiness Is a Serious Problem”, Dennis Prager argues that it’s human nature to want more, to feel that we need more. The problem he notes is that there’s no end to the quest for more. We always want more — if only we had another 128MB of RAM … or the newest 2015 model instead of our ancient 2013 model … or the latest video game … or the latest hit by a favourite singer.

Gabor Maté is a staff physician at a clinic in the downtown eastside of Vancouver. For 12 years, he has worked with patients challenged by hard–core drug addiction, HIV, and mental illness. In a radio interview a few years ago, he said that we are all addicted to something. “For many of my patients, the pain of life is so great they mask it with alcohol or drugs.” He went on to say, “I’m addicted to CD’s. I can’t resist getting the latest one.”

In the preface to his book from 2009, “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction”, he defines addiction as the domain “where we constantly seek something outside ourselves to curb an insatiable yearning for relief or fulfillment.”

The trouble with addiction of any kind is that it never meets that yearning. “The aching emptiness is perpetual because the substances, objects or pursuits we hope will soothe it are not what we really need. We don’t know what we need.”

Like Lucy, we keep looking for new ways, new toys, new distractions, new ways of trying to amuse ourselves because deep in our hearts and souls, we are not happy. As a result, the Lucys of the world often live in an “if only” world that keeps them one step away from happiness: “If only I get this raise, if only I make this sale, if only I pay off my debts, or if only I win this game, I’ll be happy.”

Abraham Lincoln understood that happiness is essentially a way of looking at one’s life: “A person is generally about as happy as he’s willing to be.”

Christian faith ought to be about helping us find this deep happiness, this deep contentment, this deep satisfaction with the goodness in life. Unfortunately, too often it’s not so. Too many times, faith is used as a way to make people insiders and outsiders. Too often, faith is used as a battering ram.

I refuse to participate in that exercise. I want to experience the joy of living in community with all of creation. I want, as a result of my faith, to be one who joins with others in healing creation, in forming community with other people and all other creatures, in reaching out with love and compassion and grace to help those I can help.

I choose to be happy, giving myself in joy to work with God for the healing of the world. I want to give myself, and in giving myself, find my best self.

Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook