David Cameron is going to measure our happiness, according to the latest reports, and this has led to some interesting reflections on whether it is possible to objectively measure or even define something which is a concept, and arguably a wholly subjective state of mind.
Having already inflicted upon you my deep thoughts on one abstract noun, namely freedom, I am going to base this blog post around the thoughts of much wiser people on the topic of happiness – or rather the much more Christian emotion of joy.
The first is from 2 Corinthians 6:4-10,
" Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
I find it hard to say how moving I find this passage. For a start it is so beautifully written and structured and the integrity of the lived experience and the message Paul has to convey literally breathes from the page. The long list gives a sense of the enormity of the problems Paul faced but also the sheer power of the faith, hope and joy that no difficulty could destroy. The parallel structures at the end convey the paradox that absolute joy is to be found in the midst of sorrow, that with faith it is possible to simultaneously have nothing and everything. Individual words in this passage are enough to blow your mind away, for example when he writes that he is “sorrowful, but always rejoicing”, it is that “always” that amazes you. Paul was often in chains, but always rejoicing, not sometimes, but always. This passage is challenging, exuberant, irrepressible. I find it inspiring and although it was written nearly two thousand years ago, each time I read it I feel it has been written for today.
Another piece I find inspiring is by written by Julian of Norwich,
" He wants us to accept our tarrying and our suffering as lightly as we are able and to count them as nothing.For the more lightly we accept them, the less importance we ascribe to them and the less pain we shall experience from them. In this blessed revelation I was truly taught that any man or woman who voluntarily chooses God may be sure that he too is chosen."This is fantastic advice from a very wise woman. Take your sufferings lightly she says, do not dwell on them and rest in the knowledge that God knows you and all your circumstances and has chosen you. As with Paul, this offers a logic and a view of how to achieve “happiness” that is alien unless you have tasted the peace and joy of faith.
Finally the key to joy and contentment is service to others. Service is central to the Christian faith, in fact service is central to achieving happiness as a full human being whether you are Christian or not. Not a lot of people know this, but Leo Tolstoy did when he wrote,
"Joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness."
So, if you want to find happiness, forget it. It is buried deep in the heart of other things and it isn't served up as a dish in its own right.