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Are You Happy?

The great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy spoke about the elusiveness of happiness in his short story, "A talk
Among Leisured People, In it he reflects,
"They spoke of people present and absent, but failed to find anyone who was satisfied with life.  Not only could no one boast of happiness, but not a single person considered that he was living as a Christian should do.  All confessed that they were living worldly lives concerned only for themselves and their families, none of them thinking of their neighbors, still less of God."
Recently I watched a documentary titled, "Happy."  The documentary spoke about happiness and how it was realized by different people in different cultures.  The turning point for me came when a rickshaw operator was interviewed from India.  This man lived in the slums of Kolkata with barely a roof to cover him and his family.  When the interviewer asked him the question, "Are you happy?" He replied, that he was happy because he had a family, roof and a job.  The documentary contrasted this response with the responses of the wealthiest in Western Society who reported that they were not as happy. 

While I was watching this the question kept popping in my head, "Am I happy?" By happiness I didn't mean a passing feeling of contentment.  By happiness I meant something more enduring, something closer to joy, which wasn't guided by emotion.  For the most part I answered that I was happy.  But as I kept probing further I realized the painful truth that I wasn't completely happy.  I wasn't happy with my unfulfilling job,with my lack of spiritual progress, and my lack of charity in helping those less fortunate then myself.  As a professed Catholic this realization brought me great unrest. Why wasn't I happier?"  I had a roof, a car, food, and a beautiful wife.  I had more than the rickshaw operator in India.  Why was there something still missing?

This realization began a process of intense soul searching for me.  During this process I stumbled upon Tolstoy's short story. "A Talk Among Leisured People." towards the end of the story he draws this dramatic conclusion,
 "What a strange thing!” exclaimed one of the visitors who had hitherto been silent. “What a strange thing! We all say that it would be good to live as God bids us and that we are living badly and suffer in body and soul, but as soon as it comes to practice it turns out that the children must not be upset and must be brought up not in godly fashion but in the old way. A married man must not upset his wife and children and must live not in a godly way but as of old. And there is no need for old men to begin anything: they are not accustomed to it and have only a couple of days left to live. So it seems that none of us may live rightly: we may only talk about it.”
I determined as I read it that I would not become like one of those characters in the story, who talked a great game but ultimately did nothing.  I determined that I would live my life with greater purpose, in spite of the present limiting circumstances.  I realized that if I changed my attitude and outlook that I would be happier. Better then being happy I would be doing God's will at each moment.

Happiness doesn't have to be some elusive thing that only happens at peak experiences in life.  Happiness can be something more enduring, and daily. Happiness can be realized through the appreciation of a sun set, in the smile one gives in the face of anger, in the generosity one gives to strangers, in the comfort one gives to the downtrodden.  The truth is that God made us to be happy; because through happiness we reflect the radiance of God's love to the world. 


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