The Frustration of Happiness

As a kid I listened repeatedly to the song Happiness, from the musical “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.”  The old LP spun a marvelous vision.  “Happiness is . . . . learning to whistle, tying your shoe for the very first time, . . . . . catching a fire fly and setting him free . . . . . and happiness is, anyone and anything that’s loved by you.”  I outgrew that song and some of those notions, but my search for happiness continued.

The flame and emptiness of holy desire calls us to happiness. The divine image will be satisfied with nothing less.   But here in this weary land we must constantly cope with the frustration of happiness. It is this harsh paradox at the heart of our experience that translates holy desire into addiction.  Wendy Farley 

Part of the frustration with happiness is that we can’t stop wanting it even in the face of our experiences in a world of pain.  An inner fragment of the Divine, a precious but forgotten memory,  “calls us to happiness.”  It is an inescapable longing within and we will travel the world in search of a cure.

The second part of the frustration is our own tendency to derail this pure pursuit. We get lost in the noise of voices, like the vendors in Vegas, that appeal to more immediate pleasures.  Not only does Vanity Fair call us, but our own inner compulsions mislead us.  Promises of less pain and more pleasure now seem an adequate substitute for our true calling.   These pain free pledges pull us away like a tide, further from the shore of God’s love.   In a world that consumes 14 billion doses of pain medication a day we need to ask deeper questions than “How can I ease the ache of living?”  Our attempts at happiness are turning us in to instant gratification addicts, content with momentary distractions from reality.

The frustration of happiness is further complicated by our attempts to find peace in religion.  Unfortunately, holiness rules, the emphasis on self sacrifice,  denial and control,  often communicate to our souls a message of shame, failure and guilt.  This misunderstanding of the good news of Jesus can place us outside of the experience of the love of God that we so desperately need.

The way through all of this complication is often something as simple as a compassionate, listening spiritual friend.  I have also found great comfort in the classic writings of people who have explored the heights and depths of Christian experience.

The yearning of our heart is for a deeper connection to the source of our longing, God.  “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in him,” St Augustine reminds us.  In Christian understanding, Christ is the fulfillment of this heart’s longing.

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,  and you have been filled in him. . . Col 2:9,10 

The abiding presence of the one who suffers with me, and for me,  is enough to sustain me in the pleasure and pain of life.  This is the beginning of real happiness.

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