Saturday, April 02, 2011

Learning to be Happy

I have a hard time being happy.

That's not to say that I'm usually sad; that's not what I mean. See, I've heard people say that they go through life just fine, everything is smooth, and then something comes that makes them suffer, and they get derailed, they begin to mistrust everything, mistrust God, mistrust themselves, question everything. Everything gets messed up and life sort of stalls for them while they try to figure out how to move forward.

I feel like an avowed contrarian, not just in my choices but in my very essence. Because this is how I start to feel when I am very happy. It messes me up.

A mental snapshot went through my mind today: years ago I was at a bridal shower, and the bride-to-be had been truly showered with a lot of gifts. After opening them all and sitting with a huge pile of stuff in front of her, she made this motion with her whole body, with sound effects as well, a sort of reaching out, arms, legs and torso, and pulling all the gifts towards her with a sort of all-enveloping slurp. It struck me with a sort of shock, a negative sense. It is hard to explain the exact flavor of negativity I felt, but it was rooted in how foreign it was to me to trust joys, pleasures, that were actually tangible. Joy, to me, had to be invisible. As I revisit that scene today, I think she was just very pleased that she was being affirmed by friends with gifts and she wanted to be "filled up" with this happiness. True, happiness over shower gifts is not an ultimate happiness; it doesn't last. But I don't think for that reason it has to be rejected outright.

This week during Mass, one of the prayers said something about turning from "false joys." It immediately struck me that I have always taken the adjective "false" to be permanently wedded to the word "joy." This view really cuts into one's ability to freely feel joy, that's for sure! And, it certainly takes me back to the days when joy had to be invisible. But, this is a firm denial of the Incarnation of Christ. There is such a thing as a true joy, because Christ has come into the world.

So, back to my struggle and to my friend at the shower. I remember what I learned as a Theology student: how the life we live as Christians is not one of rejecting "worldly" things in preference for the heavenly (ouch, been there, done that until I practically died from it.) We are not called to reject creation as evil, we are called to know that all that is created is good, but that it is not our ultimate Good. We sacrifice "a good" for The Good. The penultimate for the ultimate. We don't give up meat during Lent because meat is bad; we give up meat to declare that we desire God more than anything. The Christian life is about passion, desire, longing... it's a love affair. So there is something completely fitting about reaching out with arms, legs, torso and voice to embrace the Good. The trick is, the Good is the Eternal. It is "in" the sign, the shower gifts, the thing that enthralls, the person I love, but it is not the gift, the thing, the person itself, as an end unto itself.

Happiness. It seems to me the key is embrace with full gusto that which brings the happiness, but not with the eye to keeping, to hoarding, to grasping so tight so that I don't drop or lose anything of what seems to be making me happy. Or trying to grasp it as it fades, rusts, ends, moves away. Instead, sharing, serving, giving. Doing penance. If I can bear to give away from that which makes me happy, I am acknowledging the Something Bigger, the source. I am not addicted, focused on keeping myself happy at all costs. I am receiving this happy moment from the eternal source of happiness and good.

Living this way, I think maybe I can finally learn to be comfortable and safe with being really, really happy.

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