Such a question! But are you? What is it that makes you happy? What do you need to make you happier? Can we be happy merely be avoiding situations and people that make us unhappy? Or is there a better way?
In our search for happiness we may aim for goals or values that are either extrinsic or external from us, or intrinsic, rooted in our interior lives. Extrinsic values and goals help us receive praise, money, image, status, and popularity as the means to making us happy. These are the goals of many (most) high school children. The trouble is a lot of adults never move beyond this stage. People stuck in seeking personal happiness through extrinsic goals alone report less satisfaction and happiness in life.
Intrinsic goals or values are inherently satisfying in themselves. They include striving for personal growth, close relationships, a sense of responsibility for the common good, and helping the world to be a better place by reaching out to others in need. People who seek happiness through their intrinsic values report that they are actually very happy most of the time. In fact their happiness increases the more they live out their interior values. This is just as true of people who are materially well off as it is for those who have just the bare necessities.
There’s a catch though. We have to be clear about our personal intrinsic goals and not let institutions or individuals define them for us. One size does not fit all.
When I was a priest those placed in authority over me continually tried to define the intrinsic goals that priests were supposed to strive for. They never once asked if I were happy in what I was doing. If I were unhappy, they simply turned a deaf ear and pointed me to a therapist or a spiritual counselor.
Many churches have a long history of reminding their adherents that there is no true happiness on earth; that they have to wait to get to heaven to find happiness. While there is some measure of truth in this, it should not absolve church authorities from being concerned with the happiness of its clergy.
I found that my intrinsic values and goals as a priest could not be satisfied working in parishes all my life. My authorities disagreed and so caused me to look outside the priesthood to fulfill my goal for happiness.
West of Boston, in an unnamed diocese (because I don’t want to jinx it) the bishop routinely asks his priests what they would like to do to make them happier in their ministry. As a result the priests of this diocese not only love their bishop but love their work as priests. And they are apt to work harder because they are in ministries that make them happy.
A scenario similar to mine is being played out in companies and industries throughout our country. Not only is employees’ happiness in their jobs considered unimportant, they are even often told they are dispensable. In fact the cleaning company hired to pick up the offices often has more status and value than the people working in the offices. They are threatened with termination for the slightest reason and are forced to work long hours in competition with others to prove their worth. This situation has gotten far worse with the recession.
Finding happiness through extrinsic goals is elusive at best. We can, however, count on the beauty and breadth of our personal intrinsic values and goals to bring us happiness. What are the values that make your life worth living? What interior goals and values are you willing to die for in order to live? How can you begin practicing intentional happiness today through the exercise of your interior life-goals?
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