Monday, January 21, 2013

Reading Chittister - What makes you happy?

Sr. Joan Chittister in her book, Following The Path: The Search For A Life Of Passion, Purpose, and Joy tells us that St. Thomas Aquinas told us that happiness  is union with God, being one with the all, or as the monk said to the hot dog vendor, "Make me one with everything."

Chittister writes on page 33 "No, it's not the possibility of happiness we doubt. It is how to find it that eludes us."

I have said to myself since I was a little boy, "It's not a bad life if you know how to live it." I don't know where I got this from. I must have been  7, 8, or 9 when I would encourage myself with this affirmation. As an adult occasionally when frustrated and discouraged I say to myself, "Life shouldn't be this hard!", and I become aware that something is wrong and it is usually that I am trying too hard and failing to understand what the universe is trying to teach me and I am reminded of the first step in Alcoholic Anonymous which points out that our lives are unmanageable and that we have to surrender to our Higher Power whatever we conceive that Higher Power to be.

Chittister writes further on page 34, "Happiness comes from inside. Happiness has something to do with what we do with who we are. Clearly, pleasure and happiness are not synonyms." Reading this got me thinking about Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs and the last need, number 5, when all the other needs are met, is self actualization. When our needs for food, warmth, clothing, health, safety, belonging, self esteem are all met, then we can attempt to pursue self fulfillment in "doing what we believe and feel we were meant, born, to do. Chittister writes "Aristotle, the great philosopher of personal development, said happiness depended on developing ourselves to our fullest potential." Bingo! Self actualization is what makes us happy after our other needs are met.

In our contemporary world we are constantly assaulted with messages from corporations that our happiness comes from buying their products and services. Is this form of capitalistic persuasion that materialism is the basis of achieving happiness the source of much unhappiness and evil in the world? Is this idea that external things can make people happy the "Big Lie" that Holden Caufield immortalized in Catcher In The Rye?

Chittister provides a counter-cultural view when she writes:

"If we want to be happy, we need to find out what we do best and do it to the utmost so that having done our part in this co-creation we can have the satisfaction such a life deserves. We need to learn that giving ourselves to something worth doing is more important, more valuable than giving ourselves only until something better, something more exciting, something more lucrative comes along." pp.35-36

Using our talents and abilities in activities that we find satisfying and fulfilling is the path to happiness. Pursuing our interests in ways we find rewarding is what gives our lives relevance and meaning.

As Unitarian Universalists we covenant to promote and affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and the free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process, and the respect for the interdependent web of existence. These principles point to the basis of the virtuous life which Aristotle, according to Chittister, told us would make us happy.

Are Unitarian Universalists happier than other people? Do UUs seem more full of joy? Perhaps, UUs are more aware than others that happiness doesn't come from winning the lottery, buying a new car, shopping for the latest fashions, or taking an enjoyable vacation. UUs, better than anyone, know that enjoyment and happiness are different things, that pleasure and happiness are different things and as Dr. Laura was fond of saying, "Feeling good and doing good can often be quite different things."


  1. If UUs are happier people I don't see it. They seem pretty morose, and cynical to me.

  2. The thing that I always thought would make me happy was to be popular. I asked myself if I would rather be happy or be alone so I let the guys have their way with me. I would do it with them and then they would brag to their friends how easy I was and another guy would ask me out. After 5 or 6 I got so depressed, my grades dropped, and I quit going out. My mom asked me what was the matter, but I couldn't tell her the truth. Everyone thought I was a slut but I didn't want my mom to think that too. At church they told me about the inherent worth and dignity of every person even if you are alone. So, I became a loner for awhile, but now I have two good friends and I decided that I'd rather be alone than be used if that's what it would take to be happy.

    I don't know about this book, but thanks for putting up the article about it. Maybe I will read it some time. The sister who wrote it seems really smart.

    I love K.D. Laing. Thanks!


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