By Father Marek Dziewiecki,
Love One Another! 7/2006 → Eternal life
The greatest desire of every human being is to be joyful and happy. None of us wants to be wronged, or to suffer from addiction, or to be prey to despair; yet how many people live their life as though it were an intolerable burden. In fact, it is the rare person that radiates joy and happiness. From this we can conclude that happiness does not come spontaneously, without effort. Only those who understand the nature of happiness and know how to attain it ever do attain it
Counterfeits of happiness
The way to happiness is not easy. Those who are unable or unwilling to seek true happiness settle for its counterfeits. They tell themselves that happiness is something other than happiness. Everything of value tends to be imitated. That is why there are so many imitations of precious stones. But whereas wearing imitation jewellery is neither here not there, being satisfied with imitations of happiness can have tragic consequences. Unhappy people believe they will be happy when they land a better job, buy a new car, build a bigger home, or achieve social recognition. Some are more naïve: they equate happiness with power, or going to a disco, or satisfying some urge, or taking drugs.
A happy person is free from all these illusions. He knows he is happy because – and only because – he loves. A loving person delights in all things, not only in his health, his friends, his job, a promotion, but also in the song that wells up in his heart, the flower glimpsed in the meadow, the rainbow that lights up the sky. Nothing can truly delight a person who does not love. Such a person is always frenetically planning his next “success” which he believes will make him happy. If his plans fail, then that becomes the reason – so he tells himself – for his unhappiness. If he achieves his goal, he realizes with bitter disappointment that he is still unhappy. And so he keeps stubbornly telling himself that something other than love will bring them happiness.
Happy people are found among all social groups: the young, the old, the well and the unwell, the poor and the rich. They may differ from each other in almost every respect, but they share one thing in common: they love. The unhappy also have one thing in common: they are unable or unwilling to love. Despite the disappointments of their way of life, they remain locked in their selfishness, always hurting themselves and others; above all, they persist in their decision not to love. Such people may enjoy youth, beauty, fame, and riches, but these things do not ensure happiness. The reason is simple: youth, wealth, and celebrity are not sources of happiness. Money neither brings happiness nor prevents a person from being happy – so long as that person loves.
The easiest way to unhappiness is to mistake pleasure for joy. These are two completely different entities. One might say that pleasure is the common thing; it is attainable by all. Joy, on the other hand, is the aristocratic thing, since only few ever achieve it. A pleasurable moment can be had for the price of a good meal. A good sleep, a release of pent-up anger, satisfying an urge – all these things give pleasure. Anyone can enjoy them, even the immature, the mentally unbalanced, the despairing.
Pleasure is achieved directly. All one has to do is reach for a tasty dish or seek an affectionate hug. Joy, however, cannot be achieved directly; it flows from a life based on love, truth, and responsibility. Without love there is no joy. Unlike pleasure, which lasts for a moment, joy endures. Seeking pleasure instead of joy often ends in tragedy as in the case of adulterous affairs or drug addictions. But as long as we love, we retain joy, even in the face of serious difficulties. Living for pleasure also destroys one’s dreams and aspirations; it leads to sin, addiction, and disillusionment. Joy, on the other hand, strengthens our freedom. Joyful people are able to stand up for and realize their cherished dreams and ideals.
People who seek pleasure rather than joy fall easily into despair. Their desires become focussed on satisfying a bodily need or improving their mood at any price – and so the tragedy unfolds. At first, they may not even be aware of their despair. With each passing day, however, they become more enslaved and unhappy; despite this, they do not correct their behavior. Only those who love have the courage to draw logical conclusions from their behavior and the conduct of others.
Which way to happiness?
Happiness springs neither from inside a person nor from outside but from an encounter with another person. And not just any encounter. The encounter must be one between oneself and another in the presence of God. No one can achieve happiness in isolation. No one can be made happy by another without making an effort himself. Happiness is the fruit of a happy encounter – one in which we experience love.
People long for happiness just as much as they ever did. The problem is that too many people today live unthinkingly on a diet of stimuli, images, and false convictions served up by a culture that knows nothing about the nature of true happiness. So-called “scientific” sociological studies present the Swiss and Scandinavians – the very people with the highest number of alcoholics, drug addicts, suicides, mentally ill, and broken marriages – as the happiest people in Europe! And so people try to save themselves with “positive thoughts,” – which amount to pleasant illusions about their unpleasant situation in life.
Our world does not even want to hear that there is a way to real happiness. Why? Because the road is difficult and therefore less traveled by. Jesus Christ has always been the Way. Only He can teach us to love wisely and enjoy happiness – a happiness that the world can neither give nor take away. Unhappy people are experts at poisoning life for others. They will do anything to deprive others of happiness. They do not see their fellow human beings as a wise gift to the world. Instead they see them as naïve victims, whom they can manipulate at their whim, in the vain hope that this will make them happy. These people are unhappy because they do not love. They tell themselves that they suffer because they are unloved, because they have unfulfilling jobs, or because the world is shabbily governed and unjust.
Man is distancing himself from happiness on a scale never seen before – not only because of his own weakness and naiveté, but also because he is increasingly falling victim to the cynicism of others and their environment. Cynics are those who knowingly and maliciously promote bogus happiness through catchy slogans like “let it all hang out,” “do whatever you feel like,” and “Don’t repress your instincts.” They do this to bring as many people as possible to despair. Cynics know very well that unhappy people are easily enslaved. Colossal amounts of money can be made from them. The easiest way to make money is to profit from the unhappiness of others. An unhappy person will literally buy anything: alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, porn, sex. Contraceptives are called ‘health products” to conceal the fact that they cause immeasurable harm.
Since happiness is the fruit of love, it does not depend on where or when we live our lives. It depends on the degree of maturity of people who come into contact with others. Consider the sublime encounters attested to by inmates of concentration camps and the gulags. Compare these with the bestial encounters that often take place in respectable homes or in the company of those whom society considers its moral leaders.
No one can come to enjoy an encounter founded on love by his own efforts. For none of us is Love. Only God is Love, and only He contains joy within Himself. We can only partake of His joy – and only to the degree that we partake of His love. The only locus for a happy encounter between oneself and another is God, Who is Love. Apart from this, joy respects no place or time. It is no accident then that the strongest and most stirring bonds are formed by the greatest friends of God.
Since happiness respects neither time nor place, but only love, the greatest happiness flows from the strongest bonds. Marital and parental love represent the strongest of human bonds. But being close to another does not automatically ensure happiness. Close ties are the best litmus test of the quality of the love that unites us; for this reason, it is relatively easy to delight in the company of someone we see once a year for Christmas. Here we need not even be bound by mature love. A good example of this are the love trysts of those who do not yet know how to love and who mistake anxious jealousy for serene longing. Maximum happiness flows from a situation where someone capable of mature love meets another person who is able to love with equal maturity. By contrast, when a person bonds with someone incapable of love, his life becomes hell on earth. I do not know if someone will end up in hell after death, but I do know that many people are experiencing this form of torment here and now.
It is no accident then that the most proficient at creating hell on earth are spouses and family members. Nothing delights as much as a good relationship with one’s loved ones; by contrast, nothing hurts as much as conflict with a parent, a spouse, or one’s own child. Unhappiness in a family does not begin when someone beats or abuses his close ones. The violence already begins when that person stops loving, when he treats those closest to him like strangers, when he fails to show them occasional signs of remembrance, care, or tenderness. When a man and woman pledge their marital vows, they promise that they will love and cherish each other and their children all the days of their life and not merely refrain from hurting and mistreating each other.
Happiness does not depend on the degree of physical closeness but on the strength and maturity of love. Some people remain close to do each other harm, others to grow in holiness. That is why some homes are like a foretaste of heaven, while others seem like a vale of tears. For me, there is no greater joy than a warm friendship with a happy family. I write novels about such families, for I know of no better way of describing their happiness and my joy in the fact that such people are realizing God’s plan for the world. People who come from unhappy families read these novels and find them moving. In some cases they read them a dozen times; but they are usually persuaded that it is just literary fiction. Those who come from happy homes do not doubt that what I describe is real. In the same way, they do not doubt the reality of the air they breath.
It is no accident that God “intrudes Himself” into the most intimate union between a man and a woman. He knows that, left to our own devices, we would come up with nothing better than the kinds of alliances served up to us in our popular soap operas, alliances that lead to pain and disappointment. Cynics and unhappy people will stubbornly continue to serve up their impoverished concept of love – a faithless, sterile, and irresponsible love. God offers married couples true, indissoluble love, which brings immeasurable joy. Only those who are close to God-as-Love can enjoy such sublime love. On our own, apart from our Creator, none of us is able to realize God’s plan for happiness.
Not every union between a man and a woman leads to happiness. Only the kind of union that God proposes will bring joy. The Sacrament of Marriage is founded on love of the highest quality. God never offers anything less! Where you have love stamped with the mark of quality, there you have happiness of equal quality. Once the spouses love each other and feel loved by God, almost everything brings them joy. Their day-to-day responsibilities cease to be burdensome. The work of the home, raising children, professional work – all these things become a joyful privilege, occasions for the spouses to strengthen their love and assume it with gratitude. Nothing is tiresome to someone who loves. During his meeting with the youth of Poland in Krakow (May 27, 2006), Pope Benedict XVI touched on our human longing for domestic happiness: “There is in the heart of every man a desire for a home. Even more so in the young person’s heart there is a great longing for a proper home, a stable home, one to which he can not only return with joy, but where every guest who arrives can be joyfully welcomed. There is a yearning for a home where the daily bread is love, pardon and understanding. It is a place where the truth is the source from which flows peace of heart. There is a longing for a home you can be proud of, where you need not be ashamed and where you never fear its loss. These longings are simply the desire for a full, happy and successful life.”
We hear a great deal about the crisis of marriage. But marriage is not in crisis since none of us is capable of devising anything more marvelous than God’s concept of marital and parental love. The only ones undergoing a crisis are those who decide to enter into the state of marriage without the maturity to love faithfully and sacrificially. We might make an analogy with roads. Building roads is a great idea, for roads lead us to people and make it easier for us to meet them. There are no pathological roads. Users of roads, on the other hand, can be pathological. Then roads become dangerous. But it is not a problem of roads but of people. The same applies to marriage. When mature and happy people enter into the bond of marriage, they become even happier. When immature and unhappy people enter into marriage, their union becomes the source of still greater suffering.
Any form of interaction which is not based on love is a threat to the happiness of spouses and parents. The mass media and the cultural trends of the day bombard us with their naïve ideas of life; as a result, people are falling for the “non-sense” of declaring their “love” for each other, while insisting on their intention to remain in a “free union.” Such is their self-delusion that they do not see the contradiction inherent in the term – a contradiction that would immediately disqualify them from every examination worth its salt. It would be like saying they were drinking dry water or driving cars with square wheels. Any absurdity is possible in the subjective avowals of naïve people. The greatest of absurdities is to say that love is a union that does not join and that one can be divorced and still remain “friends.” The Church does not recognize divorce; but this is not because she wants to prevent someone from finding “new happiness” in someone else, but because she treats seriously the person who made his marital vow. The Church may not deceive anyone into thinking that he can love maturely and be happy when he has broken an earlier vow that was consciously and freely made. Love is the most powerful bond in the universe. It is stronger than peoples’ weaknesses; it is even stronger than death, for death is temporal, while love is eternal.
Today’s increasingly more powerful culture of death represents another grave threat to the happiness of marriages and families. Why? Because happy marriages and stable families stand in direct opposition to it. Another danger to happiness is the confusion love with things that are not love – casual sex, infatuation, a feeling, tolerance, and acceptance. It is worth noting that the words “tolerance” and “acceptance” do not appear in Holy Scripture; this is because Scripture is interested only in pointing out the real way to happiness. The real way is found in love and truth.
Still another grave threat to marital happiness is the “theft” of marriage – ie. sacrilege (the Latin verb legere meaning “to steal” forms one of the roots of the word). By this, I mean the theft of the sacred bond that is marriage and replacing it with two-sided selfishness or with one side dominating the other. A sacrilege occurs, for example, when a man, whether by deceit, fraud, manipulation, or false pretence, induces a woman to make the pledge of marriage when he has no intention, or is incapable of fulfilling his pledge. Happiness cannot be built on theft – even more so on the theft of someone’s marital vow.