Adapted from A Catholic Woman’s Guide to Happiness
Life is like a journey, taken on a train,
With a pair of travelers at each windowpane.
I may sit beside you all the journey through,
Or I may sit elsewhere, never knowing you.
But if fate should make me sit by your side,
Let’s be pleasant travelers; it’s so short a ride. Anonymous
Happiness is a great adventure
When I consider the word “journey”—often used for the spiritual life—I hear a loud whistle, the shout of “All aboard!” and think of people on a railroad car, gazing out the window at lovely and passing landscapes, their suitcases stored high, and the roly-poly, mustachioed conductor coming down the aisle to collect their tickets. While I’d love life to be such an idyllic train ride, for me it’s often been more of a combination of a wild Western, a Stephen King horror story, a Midsomer murder mystery, and a Jurassic Park nightmare. Looking for happiness can be quite an adventure!
The search can be deceptive, especially with cunning and seductive voices from inside our own head, or from others, beckoning us this way and that. It’s tough to stay on track! C.S. Lewis said that there is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.[i] The battle to destroy our happiness is real.
Happiness is the mother of all desires
I was eleven years old when I first read a book about happiness. For Christmas, in 1962 my younger sister, Barb, bought our mother the first in a popular series of small, hardcover gift books by Charles Schulz (of “Peanuts” fame) called Happiness is a Warm Puppy. Barb let me read it before it was wrapped and placed under the tree.
Mom was delighted! The Cuban missile crisis—by which our nation had been deeply shaken by the threat of Soviet nuclear arms—had just died down, and many people were looking for an emotional security blanket. Schulz had created this simple book of drawings and text in one day, and it arrived in bookshops with a letter that read: “It won’t change the world, but we hope it will make things a little more pleasant for us survivors.”
The charming volume—with its sweet, funny, and comforting cartoon characters wisely expounding on happiness—sold millions and became a favorite of readers of all ages. Was the book’s tremendous success really about the little round-faced boy, Charlie Brown, and his dog, Snoopy—or about that unquenchable human desire for happiness?
Are happiness and joy the same?
Some have tried to distinguish between “happiness” and “joy”, insisting that the first is wordly, vain, and maybe even sinful and the other elevated and holy. This artificial distinction is unfounded and not taught by the Church; in fact, translations of the Bible use the words happiness, joy, and blessedness interchangeably in hundreds of verses. Even our dictionaries define joy as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.”
So, what is the difference, if any? You can experience profound joy at the birth of your first child or grandchild; the saints enjoy eternal happiness. They are both good but there are various levels of happiness and joy; the lower levels are good . . . but fleeting. The higher levels are richer and more enduring. Trying to push them apart from one another risks separating what God has joined together: heaven and earth, body and soul. It is good to volunteer selflessly in a soup kitchen and it is also good to enjoy a Saturday afternoon pedicure. Both produce happiness, albeit one has greater long-term value. Let’s not slip into the old heresy, “Spirit good, body bad,” thereby demonizing the physical world and all the pleasures and joys therein that God gave us.
In my book, I explore the classic “four levels of happiness,” all of which we begin to experience as children in our families, from getting that bike for Christmas, to being able to ride it, to freely sharing it with others. Each level points to a higher one, until we find the deepest desire of our hearts. And as Catholics, we know what—or rather, Who—that really is. Are you ready to explore the four levels? Then, grab your bag, settle in, and enjoy the scenery as we ride into ancient and mysterious territories! All Aboard!
What have been some of your happiest moments?
When have you felt lost and uncertain about where to turn?
What is your definition of happiness?
Get the Book HERE.
Photo: Napa Valley Wine Train
1 C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014)