“As long as it makes you happy” is a popular phrase we hear today. But what really makes us happy? We all want to be happy. It’s normal. But how do we get there? People have tried to figure out the secret to happiness for thousands of years, because what we believe will make us happy determines how we think, feel, and act. We’ve tried everything from money to success to food to fame. But when push comes to shove, the only thing that fills our infinite longing for happiness is perfect and ever-lasting Love, Goodness, Truth, Beauty, and Being – God. So often, we live for the happiness that is generated by ego-boosting, experienced when we are considered more beautiful, popular, or powerful than others – like the fleeting happiness of selfies, Snapchats, Tweets, and Facebook posts. But this happiness is illusory – over time it is replaced by feelings of isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and depression. We are made for something deeper; to settle for less than the happiness for which we are made will, in time, devastate us. In his book, Healing the Culture, Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J. offers a helpful guide in understanding the four levels of happiness. Figuring out which type of happiness drives our lives can help us obtain that eternal happiness for which we were made.
So what makes you happy?
Level 1 Happiness: Immediate Gratification
EXAMPLE: eating a whole box of donuts while sun-tanning on the beach. It’s warm, delicious, and comfortable. But when the bellyache hits and the skin begins to peel, it’s not so great anymore. • It’s about my maximum pleasure and minimum pain, now. It’s me-centered. • It’s a quick fix. It’s fast, wonderful, and totally not satisfying. • It just doesn’t cut it. We’re going to feel bored, empty, and meaningless if we try to fill our infinite “happiness tank” with things like pastries and sun-bathing.
Level 2 Happiness: Personal Achievement (“I have to create myself”)
EXAMPLE: to be employee of the month – forever. There’s nothing like being chosen. But when the new guy gets the nomination, it just might shatter my personal universe. • It’s all about getting to the top, so I can feel good about myself. It’s also me-centered. • It’s the game of compare and despair. We’re always having to re-create ourselves to be better than others. Other people are threats to the perfect me. • It’s exhausting to always have to be the best, and it’s a short-term experience of satisfaction, at most. We’re going to feel inadequate, jealous, angry, anxious, depressed, and lonely when somebody else gets ahead.
Level 3 Happiness: Good Beyond Myself
EXAMPLE: serving soup at the local soup kitchen. It is truly life-changing to look someone in the eye, to see their goodness, to help them in their need, and to have them receive our gift. But the day will come when I find I can’t rest in even these good people and this good work. I am restless for something more. • It’s about looking out for the good of other people and using our gifts to serve them. It’s other-centered. • It’s a change of outlook – life is an adventure, and we’re all teammates along the way. • It’s real, bon-a-fide, deep, long-term happiness. We’re going to experience full hearts and fulfillment in love. • But at the end of the day, it’s still not enough. We’re going to go into crisis when we expect another person to be the perfect and infinite love we ultimately desire.
Level 4 Happiness: Ultimate Good
EXAMPLE: deciding to go on a walking pilgrimage to prepare for Easter. I’m cold, wet, tired, hungry, and yet filled with this crazy, wonderful joy, a joy that’s inexplicable other than I know myself to be loved by Love Himself. It’s the kind of happiness Jesus talked about in the beatitudes – “Blessed (or “happy”) are the poor in spirit…” • It’s realizing that our need for perfect Love, Truth, Beauty, and Goodness is bigger than us. It’s realizing that I have infinite desires and that I can only be satisfied by Someone beyond me. It’s God-centered. • It’s asking God to give us what we cannot give ourselves—e.g., “Lord, I need you,” “Lord I love you,” “Thy will be done”. • It’s when God responds by filling our emptiness – a real, true, forever happiness deeper than our emotions. And a peace that remains even in the midst of trials and sufferings because it’s rooted in the unchanging God. • It actually allows us to live Level 3 happiness in its fullness, by making a total gift of ourselves in, through, with, and because of the Divine Love we’ve encountered.
Originally printed in our Winter 2017 issue of Imprint.