Reflection: Seeking Happiness in the Wrong Places
by Father Don Thomas
It is safe to say that everyone or almost everyone wants to live a happy life. If this is true, I wonder why it is that so many go through life being unhappy and miserable so much of the time, while on a regular basis they look for inner peace and happiness. Is it possible that people, including myself, could be looking in the wrong places? I am reminded of the story of the man who was looking for his house key. He was on his knees right under the street light, looking here and there when a buddy of his came along and asked him what he was looking for. Being told about the lost key, his buddy also got down on all fours under the light and joined in the search. After looking for almost an hour, the buddy asked his friend if he was sure that he had lost it in this very area. "Oh, no! I lost it away over there in the dark alley". Shocked and surprised at that answer, his buddy asked him why he was looking for it in this spot. "Oh", he said, "because the light is better here under the street lamp". I read that story in Bryan Robinson's book on "Self Esteem" and I heard it related a number of times in sermons or speeches, and I thought it was appropriate for this reflection.
So many of us are like that fellow looking in the wrong places for happiness. We get stubborn and simply refuse to give up, change or search in other places. We are captivated by our addictive thinking, and unhappiness will often be the consequence.
In my studies through the years, I was impressed by the definition of happiness by St. Thomas Aquinas. He explained how and why happiness was the possession of a "good", with the realization of knowing that it would never be taken away. You would never lose it. In society, it is so easy to see the wrong approach many of us use in seeking happiness. We really do look in the wrong places, and what we perceive as a "real good" turns out to be an "apparent good". We lunge at it because we have this inner thirst or hunger for happiness. We turn to drink, to money, to sex, to the big mansions, to the beautiful clothes and to all sorts of fame and power. Some people learn from their mistakes and, sad to say, others never learn before it is too late. Let us consider why these "attractions" lead to failure in the search for happiness. Let us consider where we are making our mistakes.
If happiness is the possession of something good, with the realization that we will never lose it, it becomes quite evident that no man or woman can ever make us truly happy, because even in the case of the perfect husband or wife, the most wonderful mother or father, we cannot be perfectly happy because in the back of our minds we realize that we are going to lose them eventually. We all have to cope with death. Knowing that our Mom is going to die or our Dad is going to die—that "good" is going to be taken away. We are going to lose them and that thought keeps us from being perfectly happy. It is the same with money. If we have a lot of it, we are not perfectly happy because again we realize that some day we will be separated from it, by death or perhaps because of other reasons. We even keep worrying about how others want our money and that keeps us from being perfectly happy—the thought of losing it. The same can be said about drink, sex, and other bad choices because they last only for a time and then we lose all those things, including the fame, the power and the influence we had in positions of authority. We can drink and drink, spend and spend, but sooner or later we wake up and realize that all things come to an end. Whatever good we have, we know that the realization of possessing it forever is not there—and that is why there will never be true happiness here on earth.
The possession of God, therefore, is the only "good" that will bring us true happiness, because if we share in God's life here on earth through His grace made possible by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and if we gain eternal life in heaven, it is forever, and it will never be taken away, we will never lose it. It is true that in this valley of tears we may experience limited happiness while sharing in God's life, but the old Baltimore Catechism stated it correctly when it taught us that God "made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this life, so that I would be happy forever with Him in the next". Wise indeed is the one who really learns the difference between pleasure and happiness. Our world stresses the former, while God offers the latter to all who love Him and to all who do His Holy Will. Let us all strive to avoid the mistake of the man searching for his key under the street light.
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