Is it the things your child does that makes you laugh? Or is it your child just being your child?
Some days, we wake up, the sun is shining. We pour a cup of coffee and it tastes wonderful. We are greeted with smiles and friendly faces as we head to work. At work we are told by the boss that we are doing an amazing job and the day goes by with a wonderful song like rhythm.
Other days, the alarm doesn’t go off, we wake up late. Our coffee taste like burnt metal. The dog vomits on the stairs. Someone cuts us off in traffic and gives us the finger. Our boss tells us that cuts are being made in our department and reminds us that we are dispensable. The day is like a song. A terrible, obnoxious, loud song that we hate.
Is our happiness dependent on the conditions of people and things surrounding us?
There are numerous stories of people that survived the Nazi camps in World War II. Many of them have talked about times of laughter within barracks. Joyful times even during one of history’s greatest atrocities. How can this be? How can anyone find any form of happiness during such darkening times?
And then there are stories of people winning great amounts of money in the lottery, only to end up with major depression and addictions. People, who suddenly gain what many so often wish for, not being happy at all.
Can our happiness come from our faith?
Recently someone was telling me about some car trouble they had. They were happy to get their car repaired and said, “God was obviously watching out for me so I could get my car fixed.”
But does this mean that God is not watching out for, or even worse, doesn’t care for people who get stranded on highways or struggle to pay for repairs, or cannot even afford transportation of any kind?
There are stories of people being very angry at God. Unhappy people, unhappy at God. Their anger toward God could be evidence that they do indeed believe in God, so is it fair to say that people in this situation, do have faith but do not have happiness?
Is our happiness based on what God gives us? On what God doesn’t give us?
How fragile is our happiness?
Recently my wife and I were a bit dumfounded by a hanging pot of flowers we had on a hook near our back stoop. At the beginning of the summer, these flowers were beautiful. They were full of colors. Red, yellow, green… They made us smile each morning when we sat outside with our morning cup of tea.
Each day I would take a watering can and give the flowers a drink. Twice a month I would add some plant food to the water and give them some food. All looked lovely until we had about a week of rainstorms. To protect the flowers from the harsh winds, I took the pot off the hook and sat it in a corner on the pavement. A few days later, the rain stopped and I hung the pot back up.
But the flowers began to look sickly. Within days, the pedals began to curl inward and the stems began to sag. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I placed them in the sunlight and each day, touched the soil with my finger. The soil always felt dry so I would give the flowers a drink of water. But with each day, the flowers began to look worse and worse. And then recently, the flowers died. We were puzzled.
I grabbed what was left of the flower to throw it away. I pulled the stems and wilted pedals from the soil and noticed how easily they came up. It was as if there was nothing holding the flowers in place. I dug a little deeper into the soil and discovered something I did not notice from the surface. Deep within the soil, was wetness. A lot of wetness.
When I had set the pot on the ground to protect it from the wind, I inadvertently plugged up some drain holes on the bottom of the pot. The continuous rains filled the pot with so much water, that it was drowning the flowers. I didn’t notice this after hanging it back up because I was only checking the surface. The little sunlight dried the surface of the soil, but underneath the surface, it was dying.
I thought I was giving the flowers something it needed each morning when I watered them, but what I was giving them, was not helping them. It was killing them.
The happiness of the flower was not determined by the surface, but rather by the roots.
Can our happiness be measured the same way?
Are we trying to find happiness on surface things? Material things? Conditional things?
Or are we discovering our joy from deep inside? From a place not so easily effected by the conditions surrounding us?
Is it possible to find a deeper joy from within our soul?
South African Anglican cleric and theologian Desmond Tutu believes there is a difference between happiness and joy. Our happiness is the surface feelings effected by environment, but our joy comes from deep inside our soul. When our soul is in active relationship with Christ, we strengthen our joy. The stronger our inner joy is, the easier it is to take on life’s many challenges.
“Discovering more joy does not, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreaks without being broken.” ― Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
If so, what can we do to feed our soul? What can we do to strengthen that joy?
My life is not perfect. There are times I get worried, angry, sad, and I have experienced unhappiness.
But I do find, that when I am more disciplined in my spiritual practices, I am more joyful inside.
When I am disciplined, I wake up at 5 AM. I begin the day in prayerful mediation. I pray to God and thank God for being able to arise to another day. I pray to be in the presence of God. To have the right perspective on my life and what matters. And I pray for others. For friends and family and for neighbors I do not know. And then I spend some time listening. Listening to the silence. It’s difficult for me to be unhappy when I begin each day in a joyful presence of God.
As I continue my day, I pause when possible, to remind myself of God’s presence. To remind myself that the Holy spirit is with me. I remind myself of the love of Jesus Christ. The love Christ has for me and the love Christ has for all others.
For me, this practice takes away any attitude that God’s love is conditional. That God’s love for me is not conditional of my actions or behaviors, and that my love for God is not conditional on what I want God to bring me or do for me. For me this practice is simply loving God, loving myself, and loving my neighbors.
When I do this, it is easier for me to accept the day for what it is. I cannot always choose what happens in a day, but I can choose what my reactions can be. With a stronger joy, (root) I can be less effected by the storms of life. More importantly, I can see more of what is important. I can feel more bellow the surface and I can rely less on surface conditions to feed my joy.
I can have strong healthy roots, giving strength to the surface, and not have weak roots hoping the surface will give me what I need.
Yes, there are times I sleep in. There are times I am not so disciplined. And there are times I am a regular old poopy-butt-face. But I pick myself up, allow myself to be human, and start again.
There are times that life can throw us a curve ball. Times when a tragedy can throw us off our perch. There are also times when a chemical imbalance can cause us to feel depressed and make happiness seem like a distant, even long-lost friend.
Our spiritual practices can help us with this. It can help us find strength to seek help. To take medication. To talk about how we feel. To not feel so alone.
There will always be times when the storms of life try to uproot us.
And there are also times when our roots can be strong, healthy and even joyful.
What do you need to do to help your roots?
What can you do to feed your soul?
What can you do to strengthen your joy?
What makes you happy?