Are you happy? If not, what will it take to make you happy? Different circumstances? Fewer problems? New or better stuff? What makes you happy? How do you go about finding happiness?
I have some good news! There IS a secret to happiness! And happiness is available to everyone.
During my sabbatical, I wanted to spend time reading works from early Christianity. Aelred of Rievaulix lived in the 12th century. In the book “Pursuing Perfect Happiness”, John R. Sommerfelt outlined some of Aelred’s beliefs concerning happiness. One quote stood out to me:
“But the human intellect has been darkened as a result of the Fall, and humans are unhappy. This unhappiness is due, in large part, to their ignorance of what happiness is: ‘Although they long ardently for happiness, not only do they not do those things by which they might attain their goal, they rather direct their affection to lesser things and do that which will add still more to their misery. In my view, they would not do this if a false image of felicity did not delude them…’ Because of this delusion, humans seek happiness where it cannot be found. And thus unhappiness is, in large part, the consequences of the intellect’s ignorance of the true source of happiness.”
What I hear Aelred saying is: We all want happiness, but we have no idea what happiness is because of the Fall. We seek what we do not know. We pursue happiness but have no idea what it is.
How can we find happiness when we have no idea what happiness is? Of course, we believe we know what it means to be happy, but time after time we pursue what we think will make us happy and acquire it but realize we still aren’t happy.
Through his writings, Aelred shows the path to happiness. He maintains that happiness “lies beyond human ability” but not God’s. As we deepen our knowledge of and relationship with God we don’t just discover what happiness is, we enter into it as well.
Since we don’t know what happiness is, we try to find happiness in places that won’t provide happiness. However, happiness has always been within our grasp because God has made a way to happiness through Jesus!
Around 600 years after Aelred, John Wesley would write:
“For the same reason, except he be born again, none can be happy even in this world. For it is not possible, in the nature of things, that a man should be happy who is not holy. “
Welsey and Aelred (among many, many, others) agree. Happiness and a right relationship with God are interconnected. Without being in right relationship (justification) with God, we will not and cannot be happy. When we pursue God and deepen our relationship with him, not only do we discover what happiness is, we experience it as well!
All of this is a gift! None of this is based on us! Aelred taught that happiness was beyond our grasp and it is but through Jesus, we have been justified and can have a right relationship with God, bringing us happiness and joy! We can choose to, instead, continue our own pursuit of happiness, but we will never find what we are looking for. When we give up our pursuit of happiness and, instead, pursue Jesus we finally find what we are looking for.
Happiness and joy is available to everyone and it isn’t based on what we have, where we are, or what we are doing. True happiness is centered in a growing and vibrant relationship with Jesus. You are invited to happiness and joy!