Catechesis Corner – Are We Happy Yet

Sister Timothy Marie, O.C.D.
Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles

Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz, followed her yellow brick road to find happiness.

Charlie Brown summed up his thoughts on the topic of happiness with his statement, “Happiness is a warm puppy.”

Ah, elusive happiness. Just when we think we’ve achieved it, it often slips from our grasp and we find ourselves searching again. The search, attainment, and loss of happiness is one of the mysteries of our human life on earth.

Happiness is not an easy topic to write about. It is extremely complex, because what brings happiness to one person oftentimes does not bring happiness to another person. Or what brought happiness during an earlier time in someone’s life definitely does not bring happiness now, and the list goes on. A variety of approaches – biological, religious, and philosophical – have tried to define happiness and identify its sources. It remains elusive.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” Aristotle assumes that all our actions aim at some end or good, that our ends form a hierarchy, and that there is one ultimate end. The highest good is that at which all actions aim; it must be an end-in-itself, self-sufficient, and attainable. As happiness alone satisfies these conditions, happiness alone is our highest good.

The following is an excerpt of yet another definition of happiness. It is taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “True happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement – however beneficial it may be – such as science, technology, and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love. The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God, and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness for which he never stops searching.” Such questions as “Why am I here?” or “How can I be happy?” are about the purpose, the meaning of life. This type of question can’t be answered scientifically, because it transcends science. St. Augustine aptly describes these questions as fides quaerens intellectus – faith in search of understanding.

What is Happiness?

There are four levels of happiness.

  1. Laetus: Happiness in something. This happiness is based on something material. A new outfit… A new car… The publishing of a book… “This makes me feel good; therefore, I am happy.” It is the physical gratification of any of our five senses. We may at times feel pain and suffering, but we can see nothing good coming from it. Suffering has no meaning at this level.
  2. Felix: The happiness of one-upmanship is the result of comparing with someone else, and then coming up as being better, stronger, faster – the happiness that comes from winning a competition. Our good self-image comes from how we measure up in comparison to others. This outlook on happiness produces discouragement and a loss of self-worth when the competition is lost. As far as suffering of any kind is concerned, we avoid it at all cost.
  3. Beatitudo: This happiness comes from the Latin beatitudo, which is translated as blessedness. It is, in essence, the opposite of the previous happiness, felix. Here, we wish others well and we spend our time doing good for others as well as seeing the good in them. An example would be someone who can say, “It makes me very happy to work for Meals-On-Wheels.” As good as this third level of happiness is, it can never be considered as our ultimate happiness.
  4. Sublime Beatitudo: Sublime means to lift up or to inspire. Sublime Beatitudo involves reaching toward the fullness and perfection of happiness – The fullness of goodness, beauty, truth, and love. This encompasses the spiritual component of our being – our soul. It is hard to find the right example for this type of happiness, because it is a spiritual experience, and these are almost impossible to put into words. Words don’t even come close. At this level we learn that love encompasses suffering sometimes.

Catholics believe that the fullness of the beatific vision (seeing God, face-to-face) is something that we strive to move towards in life, but will only be granted completely after death. We get glimpses only of the sublime nature of beauty, truth and goodness at rare moments in, perhaps, the arts (music, story, film) or nature or when we are loved by or love others. These glimpses are only a foretaste of what God has prepared for us in heaven.

Are we happy yet?

Yes, we can find happiness. Only in heaven, however, when we see God face to will we be completely, totally, absolutely happy. No longer elusive, no longer slipping from our grasp, we will enjoy the Beatific Vision of God.

No, we are not, nor will we ever be, completely happy in this world.

Note: For further reading, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church Part 3, Section 1, Chapter 1, “The Desire for Happiness” #1718.

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