“And so, the Beatitudes extol a poverty of spirit, sorrow over evil or loss, meekness, a hungering and thirst for righteousness, mercy, a purity of heart, peace-making, and a willingness to accept persecution for what is right.”
Every New Year, we’re presented with an opportunity to set new goals and make resolutions toward a better life. It’s a time for new beginnings. Of course, the New Year began a little while ago and perhaps our objectives have already imploded or our plans have been scattered by the twists and turns of life. Or maybe our resolutions are doing pretty good so far but the success isn’t making us as happy or as fulfilled as we anticipated.
What are we to do in these situations or others like them?
In an age like our own, everyone is looking for a quick fix to happiness. We make goals and they go their way. Self-help guides abound and yet paths to reaching fulfillment get more narrow. Happiness, however, should not be this complicated. Finding fulfillment shouldn’t be a maze or a guessing game.
In this arena, the Christian tradition offers some guidance. It presents a time-tested and reliable path to happiness. There is a necessary clarification to receive this counsel, namely, happiness and suffering are not at odds with each other. In fact, to be truly happy, we should expect suffering. How is this possible?
Suffering and happiness co-exist because happiness isn’t just about us. It depends on a proper relationship with God and our neighbor. This openness leads us to realize that happiness isn’t a synonym for pleasure, or a euphoric high, or the accomplishment of a perfect state of affairs based on our desires. Happiness is something more. It’s about laboring for goodness in ourselves so that we can be of greater good to others. It’s serving and helping others to see goodness in themselves and assisting them in letting it flourish.
As we grasp and work to comprehend this new perspective on happiness, the teachings of Jesus Christ provide some direction to those who are willing to listen. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the human family the eight Beatitudes. These simple declarations, such as “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” pave the way to true and lasting happiness. Rather than a short-cut solution or a compromised self-help guide, the Beatitudes display the challenge and course of life to be followed if we want to reach and thrive in a real and enduring happiness.
True to form, however, this challenge to be happy involves suffering. It’s a summons for us to die to vane or narcissistic aspects of our personalities and our behavior so that we can follow a path of virtue that is the best expression of who we want to be. And so, the Beatitudes extol a poverty of spirit, sorrow over evil or loss, meekness, a hungering and thirst for righteousness, mercy, a purity of heart, peace-making, and a willingness to accept persecution for what is right. This is the sure path to happiness accepted by so many great leaders in human history, from Dr. Martin Luther King, to the Dalai Lama, to Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and to Pope Francis.
As we enter into 2018, this course of life is offered to each of us. In the midst of broken promises and well-intentioned but hollow resolutions, it might be the best time to relook at the Beatitudes and ask ourselves what we’re willing to do to be truly happy. The path is difficult but effective. The invitation is given. Will we choose happiness for ourselves and for our world? The choice is ours.
Father Jeff Kirby is a Catholic priest and author of the new book, Kingdom of Happiness: Living the Beatitudes in Everyday Life.