We all want to be happy. Isn’t a happy life the very reason for living? I really love a happy ending when I finish a novel. I told a teenage woman I’m mentoring as an author that I hope the book she’s writing will have a happy ending. She wisely said, “It doesn’t have to be happy. It has to be meaningful.” Out of the mouths of babes.
When you think about it, the greatest source of real happiness is a meaningful life, one that serves a purpose beyond mere pleasure. Some of the happiest people I’ve known were in the last stages of terminal illness. As they looked back on their lives, they focused not on the money they made or the things they had, but how they had served, what they created, and how well they loved.
People tend to die the way they live. If they were constantly whining and focusing on the negative, they may well continue to complain and criticize, even at the end. Those who are cheerful and have a good sense of humor continue being funny and optimistic as they approach their own death. A dying woman I visited in hospice made up what she considered a hilarious answer to people when they asked her how she was. “Progressing well, thank you.” Then she would break into giggles. Her disease was progressing rapidly and instead of giving in to fear, she found something to laugh about. She had a graceful ending indeed. My brother John could have written a joke book for the terminally ill. Despite aggressive brain cancer, he never lost his wit. He had always been funny, and nothing changed as he faced death. When the nurses came in to inject him in a rather painful spot, he’d say, “Oh, grab and stab time?” and laugh. He loved telling people who asked him how he was, “Well, I’m way past my ‘sell by’ date.” Why am I speaking about the dying in a column on happiness? Because happiness, contrary to popular belief, is not dependent on circumstances. It is meeting whatever happens with what my brother called “Vitamin T” – the virtue of trust. The Book of Mormon says: “Ye must press forward, having a perfect brightness of hope.”(2 Nephi: 31:20)
So, where do we find meaning and happiness? Joy comes when we find our calling, offer a needed service, do something that matters. It doesn’t have to be big or earth shattering. Mother Theresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” We can invest love into whatever we build, sing, cook, write or create. Sufi poet Rumi said, “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
We serve our purpose by loving others and forgiving their frailties, being a faithful friend, being thoughtful, kind, sincere, and trustworthy. The courage to do the right thing, walking with integrity, brings a deep sense of inner peace, and creates a wellspring of positive energy.
Sometimes we confuse desire and addiction with happiness. But it doesn’t last and it isn’t real. It stirs up discontent and a desire for more and more. That isn’t happiness. It’s enslavement. St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Man cannot live without joy; therefore when he is deprived of true spiritual joys it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures.” The Baha’i Teachings say, “…true happiness is founded on spiritual behavior.”
Genuine spiritual joys come when we are fulfilling our unique destiny – the meaning and purpose of our lives. And of course, men need to understand and believe the great law of the universe: “Happy wife, happy life,” because “if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” I’ve got the T-shirt to prove it — a gift from my husband.