Friday, 26 November 2010

Forget happiness and you just might find it

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.


  1. This might be the best thing to gov do! Get the town talking about happiness it would be great if people actually discuss something the problem I have is that people do not discuss. the idea of debate and listening and thinking is beyond many of us and when we are know what we think we are prepared to live for it and when we have something to live for we are happy. Paul knew what he believed, he loved because he knew the love of Jesus and no matter what he was prepared to continue sharing that.
    Great post thanks for getting me started! again

  2. You are on the finest blogging form. This is another superb post and I couldn't agree more with the premise that the key to happiness is found in serving and giving to others.

    I've lifted your conclusion onto my blog as a way to link to you and introduce this post and David Cameron's - so called - wellbeing index.

    Hope that's OK, let me know if it's a prob.

    Wellbeing Index: Forget happiness and you just might find it

  3. Thank you Rosanna and Stuart.

    I'm just pleased you liked the post, Stuart, and I am glad when people link to my blog. Anyone can link to or quote any of my material on their blogs as long as it is not clearly malicious and it is acknowledged.

  4. Yes, this is a lovely post!

  5. This post is so good. Although you are only a woman, you could easily get a job teaching men English Literature.

  6. Thanks Fr Orsen Carte, I think I have:)

    Obviously scripture is another matter. I have to ask my husband at home if I don't understand anything in church. He always says he hasn't a clue, doesn't care anyway and I can think what I like. Confusing, huh?