How much time do you spend trying to make other people happy?
Now, there are clearly some people that we should want to make happy. Certainly, a married person should want their spouse to be happy. We should want our family to be happy along with our friends. In fact, in loving our neighbor as Jesus teaches as the second greatest commandment, we should want everyone to be happy. Yet, our interest and our responsibility for their happiness is not the same for everyone.
In fact, we need to think about what it even means to be happy.
Happiness can be superficial. It can focus on how one feels in the present moment with no thought of the bigger picture of our whole life. As I mentioned in my homily this past Sunday, when we make physical pleasure our greatest priority, it is called “hedonism.” In doing so, one puts their physical pleasure above everything else, their family, friends, job, and even God.
Thinking of a spouse, in our desire to make them happy, we might make their favorite meal for supper even if we don’t like that meal ourselves. We might go to see a play because they want to even if we don’t care to. Of course, this should work both ways, both spouses seeking the happiness of the other.
Thinking of the happiness of a stranger, we should perform corporal works of mercy to make sure they have the basic necessities of life. Looking at life from the perspective of faith, we should also perform spiritual works of mercy to help others know that God loves them and to share the truth of the gospel with them.
Ensuring the happiness of others does not mean we should be miserable all the time ourselves. It doesn’t mean keeping silent when we differ in what we believe. It doesn’t mean being something other than ourselves, other than what God calls us to be.
Let me try to provide an example from the local community where I live. The Watkins Glen area is visited by many tourists each year. The tourists come for two reasons, the natural beauty of the area and auto racing.
Auto racing started here on local roads in the late 1940’s. Then a racetrack was built. In the past there have been Formula One races and IndyCar races here. Presently, the track hosts IMSA, NASCAR, and vintage races. The races and vintage events draw many people. The hotels and restaurants can be very busy. A lot of money is brought into the local community. The race fans are happy and owners of the hotels and restaurants are happy. Of course, we have to deal with traffic and the crowds for a few days but overhaul most are happy. There would seem to be nothing wrong with this.
How far do we go in making the race fans happy? There needs to be balance. Last year they created a new event commemorating the idea for the first Corvette. This closed some streets. I’m sure it drew some people to the area. Did it keep some other tourists away?
There I turn to the natural beauty of the area (you can’t top what God has made). People literally come by the bus load to see the gorge at Watkins Glen State Park. Many people come by car (I know because I live across the street from the parking lot for the state park. On Sundays in the summer, the lot and the street parking are full!).
Other people come to enjoy the natural beauty of Seneca Lake. We also have over 9,000 acres of state forest land with trails at Sugar Hill. There is also a national forest with over 16,000 acres of forest land with trails surrounding Burnt Hill in Hector.
People come for various reasons. We should do what we can to make their visit wonderful but we must always be aware of what we give up. For instance, I love the tranquility in nature that one can find here. We must never give up the tranquility to make more money in tourism. For those who come for the tranquility, this would be counterproductive.
You may be wondering what I have written so far today has to do with faith. Where I would like to go with this is to discuss what happiness is. I would like to distinguish between happiness in the moment and the joy and peace that God offers us. The eternal joy that God offers transcends earthly happiness that is temporary.
For example, taking a walk through the gorge or through the government forestlands or even just a relaxing drive through the countryside can bring a person happiness for that day. For me, from the happiness of the moment, I see the beauty of God and find peace and joy that lasts as long as I follow God.
Last Sunday, we heard a reading from Job. Prior to this passage Job had enjoyed earthly wealth with land and livestock. He had a great family. He had good health, that is, until the devil took it away. Then Job lamented. He was not happy. He didn’t understand but he still believed in God (You can’t lament to God without believing in him). His faith transcended his possessions and physical health.
Which would you rather have? Earthly happiness that is temporary, maybe lasting no longer than the immediate experience that brings happiness or joy and peace that comes with faith in God?
While “happiness” and “joy” are listed as synonyms for each other, I use the words differently. I use happiness for the earthly pleasure that lasts a finite amount of time. I use “joy” to signify what God offers us and lasts for eternity. When we see the distinction, our priorities can change.
Here I turn to the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1-12a. Most translations today use the word “blessed” to describe what God offers us. If you look at enough different translations, you can find some that use the word “happy” rather than “blessed.” This saddens me because I think it misses the mark on what Jesus is pointing us to in the Beatitudes.
Happiness does not necessarily involve faith. On a sunny 90-degree day in the summer, an ice cream cone can make you happy. The ice cream cone does not make you “blessed.” In the Beatitudes, we see how God blesses us when we seek to live according to his truth and his will. The Beatitudes are not just a list of nice ideas. God’s commandments are not just rules to follow. When we embrace the truth found in God’s commandments and the way of life found in God’s commandments and the Beatitudes, we find a way of life that brings us joy and peace that will last forever. (See my presentation Are They Rules or a Way of Life and/or my article God’s Commandments)
We should be concerned about the happiness of others, but not simply temporary happiness. We should be concerned about offering them God’s eternal joy. When they disagree with what Jesus teaches us, our silence about God may make them happy for a moment in this world but it cannot and will not bring them the eternal joy and peace that God offers us. If we love them, we need to help them set aside the lies of this world and the devil to focus on the Truth that Jesus offers us, the truth that will set us free (see John 8:32).