Happiness: Where is it, and what does it look like?
Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life
The headline reads, "At a Kenyan crossroads, one cop does it right." The story is about Cpl. John Wanyonyi, a traffic cop in Nairobi, who was voted by a local radio station as Nairobi's "favorite traffic man." The account continues, "The safety of Wanyonyi's junction - once a notorious death trap - is a marked contrast to the rest of Kenya's road and traffic systems" (Monitor, Nov. 25, 2002). " 'I love my job,' he says simply, motioning for a milk truck to pass.... 'I earn something for my children and I am happy to see people get to work safely and fast,' he says. 'That's enough.' "
In a recent book entitled "Authentic Happiness," University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman explores an area beyond pleasure, which he terms "gratification," the enduring fulfillment that comes from developing one's strengths and putting them to positive use. Mr. Seligman cites one seminal study done by researchers who studied 28 hospital cleaners. Seligman says, "Some viewed their work as drudgery, but others had found ways to make it meaningful. The cleaners with a calling believed strongly that they were helping patients get better, and they approached their work accordingly.... The key to contentment, their studies suggest, is not getting the perfect job but finding one you can make perfect (or at least better) through the use of your own strengths" (Newsweek, Sept. 16, 2002).
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, wrote: "Happiness consists in being and in doing good; only what God gives, and what we give ourselves and others through His tenure, confers happiness: conscious worth satisfies the hungry heart, and nothing else can" ("Message to The Mother Church, 1902," pg. 17).
All three of these individuals point to happiness being the result of something deeper than circumstances.
Several years ago I was very unhappy with just about everything in my life. I wanted certain things to change, and I couldn't picture how I would ever be happy if they didn't. Making more progress in my career and earning more money were at the top of my "most wanted" list. Although these goals seemed legitimate, they were making me miserable. Many times I felt so desperate that I didn't want to live anymore.
Facing mental darkness, I turned to God as I'd done many times before when I needed help. As I listened for God's direction, I did receive answers. But they weren't the answers I initially wanted. Instead of God telling me that things would change and that I could have what I so desperately wanted, He told me that I needed to change.
I was so sure that my unhappiness was caused by my not getting what I wanted. But God's message about my needing to change made me think again. Gradually I started to see that my unhappiness was caused by my willfulness and impatience. I needed to let go of these.
This transformation didn't happen overnight. But as I looked to God and asked Him to give me the strength and humility I needed in order to make these changes, I started to redefine my life and my goals. Most important, I found a new way of looking at myself. I defined myself less in terms of material measurements and more by the way God had made me in His image and likeness. In the first chapter of the Bible, Genesis says that "God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good" (1:31).
Mrs. Eddy wrote: "Nothing can be novel to eternal Mind, the author of all things, who from all eternity knoweth His own ideas. Deity was satisfied with His work. How could He be otherwise, since the spiritual creation was the outgrowth, the emanation, of His infinite self-containment and immortal wisdom?" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 519).
The idea that God was satisfied with the way He had created me made me stop trying so hard to prove myself. My worth had already been established as God's child - not because of all I had accomplished but because of what God had already done. The more I admitted that this was true, the more peace and joy I felt.
Finding my own worth made me want to express more love, generosity, helpfulness, intelligence, creativity. I wanted to give more to others, but not in order to get something. My happiness and satisfaction come from being willing to be the expression of God, to give what I have to give. This discovery has brought me lasting peace.
Happiness isn't something that a person or a circumstance bestows upon us. Rather, happiness is ours as we go forward with giving.