Sign Up for our Free Daily Email Updates / Catholic Spiritual Direction

The Control Freak’s Guide to Happiness

September 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Happiness, Trent Beattie

Years ago, a caller asked a radio host what to do regarding her father. He wasn’t around while she was growing up, and his absenteeism hadn’t changed now that she was an adult. Despite his caring words on the phone, he wouldn’t actually follow through by visiting his daughter in person. The distraught daughter called in and wanted to know what to do.

What the host said shocked me.

Instead of assuring the caller that her father loved her, but that he had his own problems to deal with, the host declared bluntly that the caller’s father did not love her. Huh? I wondered how someone could say something so unkind, and in such a public manner. Yet, the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize…it was true.

If the caller’s father really loved her, he wouldn’t just say nice things; he would actually do something. We’re told in Matthew 21 of two sons: one who said he would not work in the vineyard, but later did; the other who said he would, but did not. Despite the second son’s affirmative words, only first son did his father’s will. Jesus summarizes the whole concept succinctly in John 14:15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

So, the caller’s father did not actually love her. Yet, as bad as that sounds initially, that wasn’t her real problem. Her real problem was that she continued to expect him to love her. When her expectations were cruelly opposed again and again, she would feel renewed pain. The remedy to this pain was to accept what the host said: her father did not love her. Once that acceptance took place, she would be freed to deal with whatever happened or what didn’t happen.

transfiguartion for post on the control freak's guide to happinessVenerable Fulton Sheen commented many years ago that “Nothing creates a vacuum like wanting to be loved. To demand love is to lose love. A selfish heart creates its own vacuum.” By insisting on someone treating us in a certain way, we almost guarantee our own unhappiness, because we’re setting up an artificial standard that we do not have control over.

Expecting something and getting nothing, makes someone sad. Expecting nothing and getting nothing, makes no difference. Even expecting nothing and getting something will probably lift one’s spirit a little, but it won’t affect it too much, because happiness (or contentment) is correctly identified as an internal condition, rather than the possession of external things.

Before anyone gets the idea that this is stoicism or fatalism, take a look at another insight from Sheen: “Contentment has no kinship with fatalism, which refuses to plan or act [out of] the belief that nothing can be altered.” He further explained, “We do everything we can, as if all depended on us, but we trust in God as if everything depended on Him. The talents we have must be put to work, but if they yield only a certain return, we do not murmur because the return is not greater.”

We do all we can to achieve our goals, but we don’t place our happiness in the attainment of those goals. We realize that happiness is not a matter of getting things, but of giving our best effort along the way, and accepting everything as a blessing from God. Then we become control freaks in the best sense of the term: We are in complete control of our happiness, because we don’t let people or things outside us determine our outlook on life.

The answer to the all-important question, “How do I find happiness?” is simply, “Stop looking for it.” The slightly longer answer is, “Stop looking for it where it cannot be found. The one and only place where happiness is ultimately found is in God. Nothing short of the infinite will bring about true happiness, and the way to gain God is by letting go of everything else.”

Sheen taught that “It is one of the paradoxes of creation that [we] gain control by submission.” When we stop trying to dictate to God what His laws should be, and when we stop trying to control the actions of others, we gain real control over our lives, which makes true happiness possible. Sheen has more to say on this topic in the newly-released book called Finding True Happiness. It is a short, simple, and salutary work that everyone, Catholic or not, would do well to read.


Used with permission of Trent Beattie and Catholic Lane. This post originally appeared September 2, 2013 at Catholic Lane.


Editor's Note: Trent has assembled, written and edited various publications. They may be found by clicking on the titles:  Finding True Happiness , Scruples and Sainthood, Saint Alphonsus Liguori for Every Day.


Art for this post on the control freak's guide to happiness: Verklärung auf dem Berge Tabor (Transfiguration on Mount Tabor), Franz Joseph Spiegler, 1727, PD-Worldwide, Wikimedia Commons.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Trent Beattie

In addition to assembling "Finding True Happiness", Trent Beattie is the author of "Scruples and Sainthood" and the editor for "Saint Alphonsus Liguori for Every Day". He lives in Seattle, Washington.

please consider supporting our mission with a donation!

  • In Texas

    One should be careful with this, though. Unless there is some underlying belief strong enough to sustain, it can be dangerous to use this method. When I was a teenager, I believed no one loved me, not even my parents or brothers. Because, as I saw it, love did not exist on earth, I wanted to commit suicide. Probably, if I hadn’t been a coward, I would have tried, at that time.

    • Tessye

      Dear “In Texas”: I want to see if I can shed some light to that “underlying belief” on this topic using my experience. At one point in my life, I developed a “shield” to protect me from experiencing “rejection”. This shield kept me distant from harms way, but it also made my heart grow cold. But thank God, the Holy Spirit came knocking at my door and through many tears, prayers and visits to the Blessed Sacrament, I began to understand this shield was keeping me from growing closer to God. God began to show me to love others without asking nothing in return (1 Cor 13) and this is what the writer means, love others without asking to be reciprocated, because if you do then you need to give that rejection to God to take so you can move on. This is still a mystery to me, but I know this wound (my cross) will never leave me, as it will help me grow closer to God. On an episode of The Journey Home with guest, Dawn Eden, Dawn states that we should not focus on the wound, but on our wellness so to understand that these wounds draw us to a closer union with His passion.
      I hope this helps. God bless you.

      • In Texas

        “…and this is what the writer means…” I understand the point of the post, but my point is that the host of the call-in show’s technique is not the best, when dealing with someone you cannot know much about (a call-in guest on a talk show) in such a “sound-bite” manner. It MAY have worked out, but then again, the results MAY have been disastrous. No one will ever know.

        • Tessye

          Thank you for the clarification,I see your point. But I assumed with the writer that the radio host practiced good judgement, had qualifications and the Holy Spirit to know how to speak as he did to this caller…God knows.

  • Excellent piece. I remembered my (lack of) relationship with my father. Fortunately, for me, I was aware that he never loved me, and move on. Our Lady of Grace was (and is) my strength.

    • Rebecca Duncan

      Yes, same here pedroerik. I always knew my Dad never loved me. I entertained hopes for a very short period, but it was better when it was finally dashed once and for all and I rarely think about it anymore.

      • Thanks, Rebecca. May God help you in your way, as He is helping me. I try to be the best Dad to my sons, and Ioved them so much, that it is tough to me to understand how a Dad not love a son (daugther), but I focus on them.

  • I wrote a response and then signed in to Disgus. Now my post has disappeared!

  • Rebecca Duncan

    Really good. Definitely something I need to try to do in all areas of my life. Thanks for this post.

Skip to toolbar