Daily Meditations

In the Spirit of Happiness; Heaven Begins Within You

Most people probably understand happiness in very earthly and materialistic terms, ranging from having no responsibilities or cares to having two beautiful cars in the garage. For others, it means enough prestige, power, money, and health that they need never worry. But is this what happiness means?

The very fact that human beings always and everywhere (barring some kind of psychological dysfunction) desire and try … to attain some degree of happiness in this world seems to be an inherent part of human nature. The universal human desire for happiness is itself evidence enough that it should in fact be pursued.

The desire for happiness, and not just in the next life, is the very essence of the pursuit of anything. Is it really possible to conclude that, since desire is what caused the fall of Adam and Eve, all desire must be eliminated from a thoughtful and wise life?

And furthermore, would it be out of place to point out that the human desire and capacity for happiness seems entirely consonant with the goodness of God? Where did we get this drive to be happy if not from God himself? To think it improper (or worse, destructive!) to pursue happiness is intrinsically unreasonable for the simple fact that it goes against reality.

For our part, we understand happiness as a deep and lasting interior peace. It is one that comes only with the struggle to search out and accept the will of God in our lives, one that demands of us a faith, hope, and love upon which and through which we strive to elevate the quality of all human life. It is the same peace of which Jesus spoke, the same inner tranquility and serenity we see in him throughout his life. We think this is what human beings were created for, so that our lives become a knowing and loving service of God and each other in this world, which will be completed in the world to come. It is about attaining happiness, true happiness, not only in the world to come, but in this world as well, even in the midst of the worst suffering.

Adapted from the Monks of New Skete,
In the Spirit of Happiness: Spiritual Wisdom for Living

Not long ago, while reading the news bulletin of a bank, I was surprised to see the author of the lead article on problems in business management start off with an old monastic tale. Evidently managers these days are finding help for their life and work in the sometimes strange sounding Apophthegmata (that is, remarks of the fathers, sayings of the monks embedded in little anecdotes). Years ago the modern thing was to quote Zen Buddhist koans; now people are beginning to discover the wisdom of the fathers of the desert. Psychologists are taking an interest in the experiences of the early monks, in their methods of observing and dealing with thoughts and feelings. They sense that this isn’t mere talk about humans and God, that the monks’ words come from sincere self-knowledge and real experience of God.

The church today would do well to get in touch with the early sources of its spirituality. This would provide a better response to the spiritual longing of people than some moralizing theology trapped in the confines of the last two centuries. The spirituality of the early monks is mystagogical, that is, it leads one into the mystery of God and the mystery of being human. And just as ancient medicine saw its most important task in dietetics — the science of healthy living — so the monks understand their directives on asceticism and spirituality as an introduction to the art of healthy living.

Anselm Gruen, Heaven Begins Within You: Wisdom from the Desert Fathers