The past five years have seen a growth in interest in studies on human happiness. Numerous books have been published on the topic, not least Sonja Lyubomirsky’s, The Myths of Happiness, which has become for many a secular bible for happiness and meaning. In a recent book, Called to Happiness, Sidney Callahan critically evaluates many of these studies. Whatever the merit of these studies, all of us nurse our own secret dream of what will bring us happiness and often that fantasy is at odds with what we know to be true at a deeper level. What will make us happy?
In a recent interview (July 29, 2014) for the Argentine weekly, Viva, Pope Francis weighs in on this topic, submitting his own “Top 10 Tips” for happiness. What are Pope Francis’ tips for happiness or, as he puts it, “for bringing greater joy to one’s life”?
In presenting these, I will be faithful to his captions but, because his commentary on each one was rather lengthy, I will risk synthesizing his central point in my own words:
1. Live and let live.
All of us will live longer and more happily if we stop trying to arrange other peoples’ lives. Jesus challenged us not to judge but to live with the tension and let God and history make the judgments. So live we need to live by own convictions and let others do the same.
2. Be giving of yourself to others.
Happiness lies in giving ourselves away. We need to be open and generous because if we withdraw into ourselves we run the risk of becoming self-centered and no happiness will be found there since “stagnant water becomes putrid.”
3. Proceed calmly.
Move with kindness, humility, and calm. These are the antithesis of anxiety and distress. Calm never causes high blood pressure. We need to make conscious efforts to never let the moment cause panic and excessive hurry. Rather be late than stressed.
4. A healthy sense of leisure.
Never lose the pleasures of art, literature, and playing with children. Remember that Jesus scandalized others with his capacity to enjoy life in all its sensuousness. We don’t live by work alone, no matter how important and meaningful it might be. In heaven there will be no work, only leisure, we need to learn the art and joy of leisure not just to prepare for heaven but to enjoy some of heaven already now.
5. Sundays should be holidays.
Workers should have Sundays off because Sunday is for family. Accomplishment, productivity, and speed may not become our most valued commodities or we will begin to take everything for granted, our lives, our health, our families, our friends, those around us, and all the good things in life. That is why God gave us a commandment to keep the Sabbath holy. This is not a lifestyle suggestion, but a commandment as binding as not killing. Moreover, if we are employers, the commandment demands too that we give our employees proper Sabbath-time.
6. Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people.
If you want to bless a young person, don’t just tell that person that he or she is wonderful. Don’t just admire youthful beauty and energy. Give a young person your job! Or, at least, work actively to help him or her find meaningful work. This will both bless that young person and bring a special happiness to your own life.
7. Respect and take care of nature.
The air we breathe out is the air we will re-inhale. This is true spiritually, psychologically, and ecologically. We can’t be whole and happy when Mother Earth is being stripped of her wholeness. Christ came to save the world, not just the people in the world. Our salvation, like our happiness, is tied to the way we treat the earth. It is immoral to slap another person in the face and so it is immoral too to throw our garbage into the face of Mother Earth.
8. Stop being negative.
Needing to talk badly about others indicates low self-esteem. Negative thoughts feed unhappiness and a bad self-image. Positive thoughts feed happiness and healthy self-esteem.
9. Don’t proselytize, respect others’ beliefs.
What we cherish and put our faith into grows “by attraction, not by proselytizing.” Beauty is the one thing that no one can argue with. Cherish your values, but always act towards others with graciousness, charity, and respect.
10. Work for peace.
Peace is more than the absence of war and working for peace means more than not causing disharmony. Peace, like war, must be waged actively by working for justice, equality, and an ever-wider inclusivity in terms of what makes up our family. Waging peace is the perennial struggle to stretch hearts, our own and others, to accept that in God’s house there are many rooms and that all faiths, not least our own, are meant to be a house of prayer for all peoples.
Offered with apologies for whenever my own thinking replaced that of Pope Francis.