World Happiness Day, brainchild of the United Nations, is celebrated annually on March 20. On that day this year, our Church will begin Holy Week and this blog will be absorbed in the meaning of this holiest, most profound of weeks. So now is as good time as any to talk about happiness. We all want it. We find it, recognize it and name it in varied aspects of life. The Gallup-Healthways Well Being Index taps the happiness level of the world daily. 500 people worldwide are contacted each day and asked whether, on the day before the call, they experienced happiness without a lot of stress, or whether they experienced the opposite. Gallup posts the results daily on the web. Your answers to the questions I pose here won’t get you into the Gallup Poll, but how about you? What in life has made/now makes you happy? What part did God play in these experiences? Maybe these questions don’t go together in your mind.
For many, happiness means things are going our way and Christianity has nothing to do with happiness. Rather, happiness is satisfaction with work, family, level of success, the newest “toys,” travel. Happiness that includes these things is good, but over the centuries and in varied cultures, happiness has meant much more.
In the Jewish mentality of Jesus’ times, happiness and blessedness were interchangeable. They had to do with success, good health, many children. All of these were understood as signs of God’s love.
No one in Jesus’ mind has ever been categorically excluded from happiness. In the Gospel, blessedness/happiness is possible for everyone, but happiness is not necessarily what we expect. Happiness, believers in Christ over the centuries have found, is intrinsically connected with the well-being of others.
Combing through the Gospel and summing up the characteristics of the people whom Jesus encountered along the road and in the villages and cities of his time, Jesus, in effect says:
Blessed/Happy are the people who are good
the hand that does not strike,
the mouth that does not betray
the person who does not deny his/her friend.
Blessed/Happy are the merciful who see each other’s needs and act to fill them
those who care for each other in good times and bad
those who are open to change and become loving in that change
those who are willing to share their own food and drink.
Blessed/Happy are they who do not give way to dominant power
those who let go of dominant power
those who speak truth and love all without restraint.
Today, I wish you blessedness/happiness. May you recognize it in yourself and others, celebrate it, engage it, and turn it over to God, the source of all happiness.
~Sister Joan Sobala