Happiness is an Inside Job, As Seen in Scripture

In the first reading for Tuesday’s daily Mass there is a description of a remarkable event in the lives of Paul and Silas. Even more remarkable than the event itself is their reaction to it. Let’s pick up the story told in Acts:

The crowd in Philippi joined in the attack on Paul and Silas, and the magistrates had them stripped and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After inflicting many blows on them, they threw them into prison and instructed the jailer to guard them securely. When he received these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and secured their feet to a stake (Acts 16:22-25).

It is easy to read this passage and underestimate the severity of what happened. The two were beaten with rods. Such beatings varied in intensity, but because the jailer is later described as having to bathe their wounds, we can reasonably conclude that it was severe. Beatings like this one led to deep bruises and external bleeding, and often caused such things as internal bleeding, broken ribs, and trauma to internal organs.

After this severe beating, likely bloody and in extreme pain, Paul and Silas were bound by leg shackles and cast into the deepest and darkest cell of the prison. The cell likely contained rats and vermin and any water was likely contaminated with human waste.

All this would be enough to lead most people into despair and self-pity. Yet what do we find?

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:26).

Despite a terrible beating, severe pain, and horrible conditions, they were singing and praising God loudly enough for the other prisoners to hear.

Here is a remarkable teaching: happiness is an inside job. Paul and Silas, despite every physical discomfort, had a joy that could not be repressed or taken away. Their connection to God could not be severed.

Too often, we root our happiness in external matters such as money, esteem, and creature comforts. Yet many who have these things in abundance are still unhappy, while many who lack them are happy. Happiness goes deeper than external matters. There is a joy we can have that the world didn’t give and therefore cannot take away.

There are moments of sorrow and tension in every life, including mine, but deep down there is a stable serenity the Lord has given me for which I am overwhelmingly grateful. I have come to discover that deep inner place of peace, joy, and contentment—and it is largely unaffected by external factors.

There is a Greek word, μακάριοι (makarioi), which describes a kind of stable happiness or blessed state. The pagan Greeks used it to refer to the happiness of the gods, which was unaffected by worldly matters. Jesus takes up the verb form of the word in the beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. In other words, stably blessed and happy are those who have their treasure in Heaven rather than in this passing and unstable world.

We should seek the gift of inner and stable happiness, the gift to be like Paul and Silas, the gift to bless the Lord at all times and in all circumstances. This, of course, is the “normal Christian life.” As Scripture says,

I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth (Psalm 34:1).

Paul himself says,

Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:16-18).

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Phil 4:4).

Yes, the normal Christian life is one of joy that is largely unaffected by external events, joy that is accessible even in moments of sorrow, joy in which a consolation, difficult to describe, is always at work.

There are two final things to note in this passage, both of which show how Paul’s and Silas’ joy and confident disposition affected others. There is a saying, when I get better, others get better too. In other words, everyone affects those around him.

The first thing to note is the liberating power. The text says,

There was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose (Acts 16:27).

It is the role of the Christian to exude a joy and a confidence that liberates others from the prison cells of despair, sin, and depression.

Do people see you as a person of hope? Does your joy liberate and give confidence?

Second, note how the love manifested by Paul and Silas moves the jailer to repentance and conversion. The text says,

When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, thinking that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted out in a loud voice, “Do no harm to yourself; we are all here.”

Consider that the jailer may well have been involved in beating Paul and Silas. The average person might be happy to see the jailer try to kill himself. Paul, however, calls out to try to save him, even at the risk of being imprisoned again. So moved is the jailer by this love and faith that he seeks immediate conversion. How has your love and reverence for life won the hearts of others?

Yes, happiness is an inside job. Here is a gift to be sought from God: an inner transformation and peace that is stable and largely unaffected by external things. What a gift this is to us, and to others around us, for when I get better, others get better, too!


Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Happiness is an Inside Job, As Seen in Scripture

On the Futile Quest to Find Happiness from the World, as Seen in an Animated Short

The video below is a humorous depiction of the utter frustration of seeking fulfillment in or from this world. It features a pig, Ormie, who goes to ridiculous lengths to obtain some cookies that are just beyond his reach.

Many people are like this, sparing no expense in search of illusory happiness. Some practically self-destruct in their quest to fill the God-sized hole in their heart.

It never works, though, because our desires are infinite; a finite world will always leave us unsatisfied. Complete fulfillment can only be found with God. For now, we walk by faith toward Him, of whom our heart says, “Seek His face. Seek always the face of the Lord!”

Seeking the Lord does several things for us. It helps us to stop thinking that finite things can really satisfy us. It increasingly ends our frustrating, futile, intense pursuit of those things. As our prayerful union with God deepens, our satisfaction with Him increases and He becomes more desirable than the things of this world. More and more we can say that God really does satisfy us.

In the video, Ormie is a very unhappy pig because no matter how hard he tries, he can’t get what he wants. The world seems to taunt him as he tries again and again. Frankly, even if he did get the cookies, they would probably only satisfy him for about twenty minutes!

Allow the cookies to represent happiness. Ormie expends all his effort on pursuing something that this world can’t give him. An awful lot of people live like that, forever chasing butterflies. Somehow, they think that if they can just get that one thing, then they will be happy. They will not—at least not in the infinite sense that their heart really desires. Wealth brings comfort, not happiness. The finite world just can’t provide what many want it to give them.

Enjoy this amusing animated short. Often humor registers in us because it contains an element of truth that we recognize in our own self. Laugh and learn with Ormie the Pig!

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard:  On the Futile Quest to Find Happiness from the World

There Is More to a Home Than Just the House

There is more to a house that its size or beauty. It is an odd truth today that though our families have decreased in size, the square footage of our homes has increased dramatically. The “great room” in some modern homes is larger than the entire house I grew up in, and some of today’s walk-in closets are larger than the bedrooms of old.

Despite all this luxury, we don’t seem to be any happier. Wealth can bring comfort but not happiness. There is more to a home than the building itself. The Book of Proverbs speaks to this:

  • Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife (Proverbs 17:1).
  • The house of the righteous contains great treasure, but the income of the wicked brings ruin (Proverbs 15:6).
  • Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. (Proverbs 25:24).

That last one may get me in trouble, but I’m sure women can adapt it for their use as well.

The commercial below develops the theme that a house is more than just the building. There are many things that make a home appealing beyond its size or the brick and mortar that compose it.

Promises, Promises – A Parable on the False Promises of This World

One of the great illusions under which we labor is that if we only get just one more thing from this world, then we will be happy. Perhaps we think that if we just had a little more money, or a better job, or the latest iPhone, or if we were married to so-and-so, or if we lived in a better neighborhood, then we would be satisfied and content at last. But “at last” never seems to come even if we do get some of the things on our list. As Ecclesiastes puts it, The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing (Ecc 1:8). Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income (Ecc. 5:8).

Although we realize this deep down, we continue to fall for the lie again and again. We think that just one more thing will do the trick. So we lay out the money and spend the time—and then the delight lasts twenty minutes at most! The world just can’t close the deal.

There is a joke (a parable, in my mind) that illustrates the endless treadmill the world has us on and how it continually seduces us into wanting just one more thing. In the end, this leads us to neglect the one thing most necessary.

There was a lonely man who thought that perhaps buying pet would ease his loneliness. So he went to the pet store and looked at many animals. He found himself drawn to one in particular. The sign over the cage read, “Talking Parrot: Guaranteed to talk.” Thinking that this would surely solve his problem, the man brought the cage up to the merchant at the counter.

“That’ll be $250, please.”

A week later the man returned, disappointed.

“This parrot isn’t talking!”
“You mean to say that he didn’t climb the ladder and talk?”
“Ladder? You didn’t tell me about a ladder!”
Oh, sorry. The ladder is $10.”

So the man bought the ladder, brought it home, and put it in the cage. Another week went by and the man returned to the pet store.

“This parrot still isn’t talking!”
“You mean to say that he didn’t climb the ladder, look in the mirror, and talk?”
“Mirror? You didn’t mention anything about a mirror!”
“Oh, sorry. It’ll be $10 for the mirror.”

So the man bought the mirror, brought it home, and put it in the cage along with the ladder. Another week went by and the man returned to the pet store again.

“This parrot still isn’t talking!”
“You mean to say that he didn’t climb the ladder, look in the mirror, peck the bell, and talk?”
“Bell? You didn’t say anything about a bell!”
“Oh, sorry. The bell is $10.”

So the man bought the bell, brought it home, and put it in the cage along with the ladder and the mirror. Yet another week went by and the man returned to the pet store.

“This parrot still isn’t talking!”
“You mean to say that he didn’t climb the ladder, look in the mirror, peck the bell, jump on the swing, and talk?”
“Swing? You didn’t tell me about a swing!”
“Oh, sorry. It’ll be $10 for the swing.”

So the man bought the swing, brought it home, and put it in the cage along with the ladder, the mirror, and the bell. One more week went by and the man returned to the pet store again.

“How’s your parrot?”
“He’s dead!”
“Dead? Did he ever talk before he died?”
“Yes, he did finally talk.”
“What did he say?”
“He said, ‘Don’t they sell any birdseed at that store?’”

Lesson 1: Promises, Promises

The world and the “prince of this world” are always promising results, yet when those results aren’t forthcoming there are only more demands. First the bird, then the ladder, the bell, the mirror, and the swing. There is always just one more thing that’s needed before the perfect result comes! But it’s a lie. The lie comes in many forms: you just need one more accessory, or the upgraded version of the app, or just one more drink, or a newer car, or a bigger house, or a face lift, or bariatric surgery. Yes, you just need one more thing and then you’ll be there. Happiness is always just past the next purchase.

In speaking to the woman at the well, Jesus said, Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again (Jn 4:13). And that is the sober truth about this world: it cannot finally quench our thirst, which is a thirst for God and Heaven. But time and time again we go back to the world and listen to the same lie, thinking that this time it will be different.

Surely it is sensible to make use of the things of this world to aid us in accomplishing our basic duties, but they are not the answer to our deeper needs. The big lie is that they are the answer. And when they fail to satisfy us, the lie just gets bigger, declaring that just a little more of it will surely close the deal.

Lesson 2: The One Thing Most Necessary

In buying the ladder, mirror, bell, and swing, the man neglected the most important thing: food. So, too, for us. We seek to accumulate worldly toys and trinkets that are passing, while neglecting eternal and lasting realities. We seem to find time for TV, sports, shopping, etc., but neglect or completely forget about prayer, Scripture, the Sacraments, the Liturgy, worship, and the development of any kind of relationship with the Lord. We are staring into the mirror focused on our own self. The enticements of this world summon us to endless things, mostly trivial in the long run. We are climbing the ladder of success without regard as to what is at the top of that ladder.

All of these less important matters divert us from the one thing necessary: feeding our souls on the Lord. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him…the one who feeds on me will live because of me (Jn 6:56-58).

Ah, but there’s no time for all that. Getting to Mass, praying, receiving Holy Communion? No time! I hear a bell summoning me to just one more diversion, one more meeting. I’m too busy climbing the ladder of success. I’m too busy looking at myself in the mirror to make sure that I fit in, and that everyone likes me.

 “Dead? Did he ever talk before he died?”
“Yes, he did finally talk.”
“What did he say?”
“He said, ‘Don’t they sell any birdseed at that store?’”

Just a little parable on the lies of the devil and the empty promises of this world.