Monday, January 21, 2013
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."
Monday, January 7, 2013
This month the UU A Way Of Month book selection is Following The Path: The Search For A Life Of Passion, Purpose, and Joy by Sr. John Chittister. Sr. Joan’s little book helps us reflect on the primary existential questions of why was I born, and what is the purpose of my life?
“Happiness, I have come to understand, comes when what I choose to be about in life is actually worth spending my life doing.” P.22
“To discover and pursue what we are called to do in life is the very fundament of happiness.” P.24
I have often said to myself, “It’s not a bad life if you know how to live it.” And figuring out how to live it as I have gone along has been very important to me. Where this idea came to me from, I don’t know, but I have strongly held it and reminded myself of it throughout my life. Having told this to myself, I also am quickly aware that I don’t usually know how to live it, but it is much clearer what I shouldn’t do so I go forward humbly seeking God’s will for me.
“To have a vocation meant having the mark of God on the soul of the one reserved to do the work of God.” P.25
“But at the same time, those same two qualities – knowing that we have within us something that marks each of us in a special way and that this quality has been given to us for some reason greater than ourselves – are the essence of coming to wholeness. The task of determining what that quality is and what to do with it is the single great work of being alive.” P. 25
This sense of vocation, a calling from God to do something important with one’s life, is the basis of faith. Our first experience of faith is feeling that other people have faith in us. People who love us and care for us are expecting something important for us in our lives. Who, in your life had faith in you? Hopefully it was a parent, or great parent, or some other relative, but sometimes that faith in us comes from people outside the family like a teacher, a coach, or a mentor of some other kind.
And did you ever express faith in someone else’s life? It is the greatest gift of marriage and parenting to nurture and care about the other person’s growth and development. Helping ourselves and others become their whole selves we become co-creators of the universe.
Becoming who we really are, being on the right track in our lives, actualizing our potential is the most satisfying and fulfilling thing in life which makes us happy. Stephen Gaskin said that ultimately the only thing we have to offer another human being is our own state of being.
Chittister writes, “I decided to write this book because I am at the stage of life myself now where being able to look backward is an important credential, too much underrated and too often overlooked.”p.27
She goes on “And finally it may help those too – for whom most great public decision making is now largely over – to come to understand their own lives, to complete them, if necessary, and to make peace with circuitousness of its journey to fulfillment. Then that warm mist of happiness which the philosopher Aristotle said could not possibly come much before the end of life can finally be quietly, serenely wallowed in.” p.28
Chittister ends the introduction with a quote from Thomas Browne, “Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible sun within us.”