We all try to find it. For some, it’s illusive. Happiness can seem to be about just a bit more money; one more designer bag; a bigger house; improved health; weight loss; a more perfect relationship; the next promotion; a desired job; a higher degree; living in the right neighborhood; less worries; and the list goes on. Each of us has a litany of what happiness is supposed to be.
The thing is, we have to look at what happiness actually is, not as some abstract concept defined by personal expectations of what life should offer.
I remember a conversation I was involved in several years ago. A group of mothers were asked what they wanted for their children’s lives. “Happiness” seemed to be the standard answer. However, when they were asked to define happiness, the conversation changed from one of confidence in their hopes for the future to conflicting descriptions of what it means to be happy. We all want happiness for those we love. The perception of that means takes on a variety of definitions.
Lucille van Pelt can teach us something amazing about happiness. You may know her simply as “Lucy”, the bitchy little girl who torments Charlie Brown, Linus and all the other Charles Schultz characters in the Peanut’s series. Lucy spends the majority of her time feeling put upon by the idiocy of the children who surround her in her family and her neighborhood. She gives demoralizing advice as a pseudo-psychiatrist, hoping to receive 5¢ per insult. She seems arrogant, callous and insensitive to anyone or anything who doesn’t buy into her brand of life. Yet, she is devastated when she is criticized for her poor behavior. People just don’t understand Lucy. Or, maybe we simply understand her too much…
You see, Lucy longs for life to be exactly as she wants it. The people around her are to behave according to her desires and she is supposed to have whatever she wants – whether it is approval, love or possessions. She shuns Snoopy, the dog, who fervently tries to kiss her and gain her affection, but is enamored with Schroeder, the piano player who barely knows she exists. Lucy isn’t interested in something or someone who cares about her. She is only interested in conquering what she does not have and what seems to be out of her grasp.
Yet, one day Lucy is found holding Snoopy in her arms. Can you feel it? The comic strip shows her arms are wrapped around that which finds her irresistible. If you read between the lines, you can resonate with her as she closes her eyes and smells the warmth and love emanating from Snoopy’s little body. Can you feel how soft his fur is beneath her fingers? Does your heart beat in agreement with hers as she gently whispers, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” In that instant Lucy learned that puppy kisses and devotion can take her to a place of complete harmony in a complex and often chaotic life, slowing time long enough for her to let go of her longing for a perfect future and actually see that all she ever wanted or needed was right in front of her. Happiness…
The Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the aim and end of human existence.” Where do you find your meaning and purpose? What is the aim and the end of human existence? How one defines these things will determine how one finds happiness.
I know what I am about to say isn’t politically correct. And, I also know that there are sometimes when emotional issues are the result of physiological imbalances. Yet, I maintain that many of our societal problems are the result of self-centered attempts toward happiness, like Lucy’s, without considering that our happiness cannot exist in a family, community or nation that is filled with people who are also obsessed with their own personal happiness. As long as we look for self-fulfillment separate from compassion for the growth and wellbeing of others we are doomed to depression, obesity, anger, hostility, frustration, stress and a litany of other problems linked to happiness gone wrong. Abundance surrounds us, yet it is rarely enough because someone, somewhere has more. We strive for the elusive more, more and even MORE believing that we are entitled to happiness on our own terms and anyone or anything that thwarts our plans is wrong. Rarely do we see that warm puppy sitting there, waiting patiently for us to realize that we have all that we need…right in front of us.
God gave us some directives about happiness in the 10 Commandments. You know them: Love God; don’t try to create other Gods or false stories about God; take time for rest; don’t lie, steal, betray those who love you, murder, or long for something that isn’t yours. Jesus clarified the list when he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
The hard part is in recognizing what loving God and neighbor looks like. The quick answer is to look at what motivates us. Jesus had a way of answering complicated questions with direct answers. (Matthew 6:21)
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Where is your treasure? Is it in loving God? Loving your neighbor? Social climbing? Wealth? Climbing ahead? Hugging warm puppies? Caring for and nurturing the ones around us? When we know what our treasure looks like, we cannot help but make all of our decisions within the framework of what our treasure means to us. If love, caring and compassion for our neighbor is our treasure, we will live as God intended for us to live. If gratitude for all that is right in front of us is part of our treasure, we will not feel entitled to something we don’t have. If we live out of jealousy, thinking that “things will be better when I have [fill in the blank]”, then happiness will be elusive and lead to living life less fully than we were created to live.
All I know for sure is warm puppy hugs can calm the chaos of striving long enough to contemplate the true source of happiness.