The Heresy of Happiness

I hope that the provocative title may attract people to reading this post :).

I was speaking to a friend on Thursday evening and I brought a point that I brought out in the reflection I gave for the prayer vigil at my grandpa’s funeral which can be found here.

There I spoke about the correctness of sadness and sorrow.  I would add to that that it is ok to feel down, gloomy, even distraught and angry!  I say this because they are all emotions that speak to a reality in our lives.  I also spoke at the funeral about how we live in a world – and I have to give credit to my aunt for this thought! – that says it is only okay to be happy and joyful.  Sadness and and sorrow, pain and suffering, these have no place in life!

Since then I have been giving thought to this and allowing it to ruminate in my mind.  It has now brought me to realize just how much pure happiness is a hopeless heresy!  Let me explain.

We are inundated by pictures, film, entertainment, etc, that has happiness.  For those who use facebook, they will not almost always that smiles are on the faces of the people in the pictures.  TV shows have people constantly smiling, movies too, though I realize there are also places for somberness as well in those mediums.  However, to a large extent, in magazines and the internet – the internet being the place we get most of our media anyways – smiling is the constant norm.  Happiness, it seems, ought to be a constant state in our lives.

Furthermore, the criterion people ask in regards to life decisions is “does it make you happy”?  The question, first, is about you, thus enabling the individualism of our culture.  But it goes further.  Meaning is only found in happiness, is only found when there is a smile on our face.  Happiness is the arbiter of life: it is happiness that is the be all and end all of living.  Whether we agree or not for this being actually the case, this is the reality that is constantly pushed in front of us.  We feel guilty if we are not happy, we feel guilty or being sad, or suffering, etc.  It is because we are surrounded by the heresy of happiness, by a mentality that states we are and must be happy at all times.  We are not living up to the standard of those around us, and we feel guilty because of it, which, in the end, actually ends up making us less happy anyways!  And we experience within ourselves a separation, a dissonance.

I believe, in fact, that our culture is wrong!  If sadness, suffering, sorrow, and pain are part of our human experience as we know it right now, then why must we deny it?  I am not speaking here of a stoic approach to the world, where we simply allow joy and suffering to hit us because it is ultimately meaningless.  Rather, we allow these so-called negative emotions and experiences to hit us because they are meaninful.  For example, I spoke at my grandpa’s funeral about how sorrow and sadness is an expression of love.  It means that we have loved someone whom we now miss.  Suffering, too, has a positive element in so far as it is undertaken out of love for another.  Suffering for the sake of suffering has no meaning without love.

People challenge us when we are feeling down and out.  They don’t like it because it means we are not happy.  But why must we deny our unhappiness?  Perhaps we just got fired from a job, lost a loved one, are struggling in our marriage, etc.  Whatever the cause is, we ought not to deny that we are sad, down and out.  We should admit it.  It is called realism and it is time that we reclaim it.

A further comment about “does it make you happy?”  I think the better question ought to be do “does buying this, doing this, etc, bring joy and love to others?”  It is a total reversal to “does it make you happy”.  We can’t make ourselves happy.  That is why so many people are so down today at the same time: we have tried to bring happiness to ourselves and have failed, and we feel horrible because of it.  We have not attempted to bring love and joy t others and to receive it ourselves.  Love is missing, and it creates isolation, loneliness, and desolation.  Happiness is meaningless because it comes and goes in life.  We have ups and downs.  But the one constant in our lives can be complete other-centered love.  Self-sacrficial love.  Death-to-self-for-the-other love.  Jesus was right “He who dies to himself will find himself” is the mantra that has been lost in our society, the key that brings true peace and joy.  For, ultimately, joy is the main arbiter of our lives, it is the true sign.  It may not always manifest itself with a smile on its face, but a smile is not the be all and end all of life, though it is a good thing to have.  Rather, a determination in the eyes, a deep sense of love for the other, that is joy.  But we must also be ok with suffering, to learn to accept it as part of reality.  I think of our Lord and how He probably was not all smiles as He went to the Cross.  It hurt, it was painful, and He struggled to embrace the reality of the Cross.  He embraced it with its pains, and joy came later in the resurrection.

If we look at pictures of contemporary saints, or even watch videos of them, you will seldom see them smile.  But you see a determination in them, a striving for holiness, that brings them peace, joy, and brings love to others.  Fulfillment of self can only begin when we start to begin to think that it is not really about us.  It’s about God and others.  When we do that, then fulfillment will come, then joy will burst forth, then peace will reign in our hearts.  We think people of the past, when they don’t smile in photos, are weird.  I think they are more real than we are today.  Why can’t we just have a photo as we are in the moment.  We want so much to run away from reality, and it is causing us an untold amount of misery the likes of which the world has never seen.

There is much more I could say about this, but I think this is enough for now.  Perhaps I will post more on this in the future.  To end this, I share with you the following video.  There are a few of her examples I have a tendency to disagree with, but I think overall her video is proving my point, even though it tends to speak about the problems of positive thinking and its effects in the corporate world.  It’s 10 minutes and is worth checking out:


in Christ



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