My daughter recently referred me to an essay on happiness, and how one can achieve happiness by purging some things and attitudes from our lives. There are 15 things on that list, and many are right on target. She gave me this reference because of her perception, somewhat correct, that I spend too much time in fear and unhappiness. I plead guilty on some counts, and am grateful for her concern and the advice contained in the essay.
However, while I have pondered over the list I have not taken on the “not to do” list as a quest to achieve happiness. Rather, the essay has given me an opportunity to reflect on happiness and how it is attained, and from whence it comes; here are some of my thoughts.
I don’t look on happiness as a life goal, but rather as a series of tokens or gifts that come along in life, often taking us by surprise. The same with many other so called “emotional” experiences such as fear, love, pride and worry. They come and go in life and I am grateful for them knowing that many times they are short lived but typically intense, and can always teach me, if only I will pay attention, if only I will be still and listen.
Tokens come from many varied sources; circumstances, friends, family and from God. I’ve tried to cultivate an ear for them over the years and am blessed when I recognize a special little gift from God; somewhat undetectable at first, but as time goes by the image sharpens and I can see the hand of God in my life.
So in contrast with, but complementary to happiness, I see among the real and lasting purposes in life are gratitude and hope; gratitude for whatever comes my way, whether it be good or bad. And gratitude to those who bring these ebbs and flows my way; the people in my life, the experiences in my life, and first and foremost gratitude to the Lord who is the author of all things and the one who can fulfill my hopes.
You see, happiness is much like the flower that blooms in springtime. We smell its sweet fragrance, see its lovely and delicate presence and beauty, appreciate the warmth it brings to our hearts as we give it to a loved one or receive it from a loved one. We see seasons of flowers and seasons of happiness, and often these seasons linger well into the summers and falls of our lives.
But we know winter is coming, and soon the flowers will fade away and die. We know that, as with the flower, our happiness will fade away and die to be replaced with fear, sadness and worry. Fear for a loved one, perhaps a child that is stricken with disease or has gone far astray. Worry about our future as we find our self deep in the winter of our life, alone without that lifetime companion we’ve grown so accustomed to. We worry about the direction of our culture and the direction of our nation. We worry about the future of our grandchildren.
It is in these times of winter that we can rest in the gratitude for things past; The kind grandmother who caressed us to her breast. The good friend who came alongside in times of trouble and need. The father who taught us how to fish and play baseball. The successful culmination of a project well done. The comrade in arms who gave up his life that others may live. The liberty and opportunity given of a free country. The inspiration of a great national leader. The knowledge of an all caring and loving God who is with us even in the storms of life.
And we can rest in the knowledge that winter does not last and spring is coming; and with spring comes the blossoming of new life and hope, new sprouts of happiness and joy as we stock up our pantry for successive winters to come.
So I will continue to strive for happiness in my own life, but tempered with the transitive nature of it, while realizing that my true and lasting goal is to be continually grateful to my Lord for life itself and all it brings my way; for good or ill.
Don Johnson – June 2012