Posted on: Jun 2, 2022
Happiness may seem to be a strange theme for our times. Images of happiness range from a laughing toddler splashing water in a wading pool to crowds cheering their favorite winning teams to alcohol-lubricated happy hours late in the day.
None of these (or similar) images mirror how His Holiness the Dalai Lama envisions happiness. Early in The Book of Joy, which conveys the wisdom of both the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, he urges that we consider the quest for happiness our primary purpose in life.
“One great question underlies our existence . . . . What is the purpose of life? After much consideration, I believe that the purpose of life is to find happiness.
“It does not matter whether one is a Buddhist like me, or a Christian like the Archbishop, or any other religion, or no religion at all. From the moment of birth, every human being wants to discover happiness and avoid suffering. No differences in our culture or our education or our religion affect this.
“From the very core of our being, we simple desire joy and contentment. But so often these feelings are fleeting and hard to find, like a butterfly that lands on us and then flutters away.
The ultimate source of happiness is within us [emphasis added]. Not money, not power, not status. Some of my friends are billionaires, but they are very unhappy people. Power and money fail to bring inner peace. Outward attainment will not bring real inner joyfulness. We must look inside.
“Sadly, many of the things that undermine our joy and happiness we create ourselves. Often it comes from the negative tendencies of the mind, emotional reactivity, or from our inability to appreciate and utilize the resources that exist within us.
“The suffering from a natural disaster we cannot control, but the suffering from our daily disasters we can. We create most of our sufferings, so it should be logical that we also have the ability to create more joy.
“It simply depends on the attitudes, the perspectives, and the reactions we bring to situations and to our relationships with other people. When it comes to personal happiness there is a lot that we individuals can do.”
Happiness hasn’t been a major theme for most of us. In fact, church teachings may even ask the question: Is being happy a worthy goal? Most of us want to be happy, but we may have a sneaking suspicion that happiness is something a little too self-centered to be a divinely blessed pursuit.
But perhaps we haven’t read our Bibles carefully, because scripture, far from being down on happiness, touts it. The word often translated in our English Bibles as “blessed” can just as correctly be—and sometimes is—-translated as “happy.” (Compare Psalm 119:1 in the NRSV and NIV; compare Matthew 5:3 in the NRSV and CEB.)
For centuries, church theologians, including such notables as Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas, wrote in praise of happiness, considering it a blessing from God on the righteous.
In the 18th century the Anglican Joseph Butler and the Methodist John Wesley, began promoting happiness as a legitimate goal for Christians. Butler contributed to the conversation about happiness because he said that we can find pleasure in doing the things that the Christian faith calls us to do.
Wesley understood the Bible to say that the way to be happy was to be holy. According to these theologians, happiness is a feeling that comes from doing what pleases God.
So instead of depending on Bobby McFarrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” let’s strive toward “Be Holy, Be Happy.”