Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M.,
The Christophers’ Board of Directors
St. Philip Neri once said, “Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life; wherefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.” Yet, happiness can be an elusive disposition, and many today are struggling to find joy in their daily lives. It is important that we attend to the need we all have for happiness so we can be productive and inspire others to experience the joy of Christ.
Advice columnist Helen Dennis recently fielded a question that speaks to the challenges many are having in achieving happiness these days. The questioner expresses a lack of “contentment or happiness” and even guilt for this concern, given the amount of suffering others have endured over the past year, asking, “Is there anything I can do to find some level of happiness during these difficult times?”
Concern over one’s own mental and spiritual well-being, even while others around us are suffering, should not be discounted. We have an obligation to attend to our own well-being in order to be at our best at whatever point we are needed to help others through their struggles. And that very dynamic of building ourselves up for the purpose of helping others is at the heart of the ultimate answer to finding happiness. It is also a dynamic hinted at within the practical advice offered by Helen Dennis in her answer to the question.
Dennis sites Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos, who created a class on the science of happiness after living with students and observing their high levels of stress, anxiety, loneliness, and worry about grades. In her course, Santos offers some key ways in which we can improve our happiness. Aside from basic issues of self-care, such as getting enough sleep and exercise, she encourages people to be more social, express gratitude, be in the moment, and practice kindness.
Dennis highlights studies showing how these simple actions lead to a greater sense of well-being among those who practice them, writing, “Health care workers who express gratitude by writing in a gratitude journal are less stressed and depressed.”
Dennis also writes, “People who are the happiest report focusing on the needs of others. They donate money, volunteer or just do random acts of kindness. Of equal importance is being kind to ourselves. We need to remember that most often we do the best we can. Harsh self-criticism and unrealistic expectations do not lead to happiness.”
We can see this practical advice pointing back to the deeper spiritual reality of why we must attend to our own well-being. Every one of us has a purpose in life that goes beyond temporal happiness, but we need to keep our spirits up if we are to attain all that God wants of us in this world.
In short, we owe it to ourselves to be joyful in order to better serve God and others. Living in the moment is one of the greatest ways we can express gratitude because it demonstrates our trust that God is looking out for the bigger picture. And being more social not only lifts our own spirits, but enables us to do the same for others and to discover their needs in order to practice kindness towards them. The pandemic has strained our ability to do this, but we must always find creative ways to follow God’s will, and we should all be looking forward to recovering those opportunities to fully live out the call to happiness.
For free copies of the Christopher News Note PRACTICE KINDNESS TO CHANGE LIVES, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org