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Finding Happiness Where You Least Expect It

September 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Self-Denial, Trent Beattie

Ask someone where happiness may be found, and you’ll get a variety of answers. Many of them, however, are centered on attaining something currently out-of-reach. The thinking goes like this: “If only I could make more money, then I would be happy.” Or “If only I had a nice car, then I would be happy.” Or “If only I could win that tennis tournament trophy, then I would be happy.”

The problem is, there are people all around who have plenty of money, a nice car and maybe even an entire collection of tennis trophies, yet they are not happy. Material goods don’t bring happiness, and in fact, the more earnestly such goods are sought as if they would bring happiness, the more bitter the disappointment that follows.

Many years ago, Venerable Fulton Sheen wrote: “Every earthly ideal is lost by being possessed.” After someone attains the object he was searching for, he no longer places happiness in it. He realizes that his unhappiness was not due to his lack of that material item. He got what he had wanted, and, despite a possible temporary kick, the general unhappiness remained.

Instead of deriving satisfaction from what we’ve achieved, we use our achievements as baselines from which to achieve more. Those making $30,000 per year want to make $40,000; those making $40,000 want to make $50,000, and those making $50,000 want to make $60,000. As the material rewards increase, the search for happiness does not abate, and it can in fact intensify.

If happiness cannot be found in material possessions, where can it be found? The answer is: we find happiness where we least expect it–in self-denial. This is not a piece of wisdom that is easily learned and lived, because it is so paradoxical. Who, without being told, would ever imagine that denying oneself would bring happiness?

Yet, we are told by Jesus Himself in Matthew 16:24 that “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it; and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.” Self-seeking ends in destruction of self, while self-denial (and seeking of God) culminates in happiness.

Self-denial being the route to happiness is possible, because, as Sheen points out, denial of self prepares us for disappointments from others: “Contradictions from others will hurt us less when we have first contradicted ourselves. The hand that is calloused will not pain as much as a soft hand, on catching a hard ball. Contradictions can even be assimilated and used for further taming of our own errant impulses.”

Yes, even the disappointments of life can be used for out greater good, if we take them in the right way. What happens outside of us is not nearly as important as what happens inside of us, and the latter is oftentimes the only thing we have control over. Good can come even from the worst situations, by a mere act of the will.

Sheen reminded us of the great important of the will. He said, “There is one thing in the world that is definitely and absolutely your own, and that is you will. Health, power, life, and honor can all be snatched from you, but your will is irrevocably your own, even in Hell. Hence, nothing really matters in life, except what you do with your will.”

Happiness, then, is found by making decisions (acts of the will) to contradict our own errant impulses. When our own wills have been negated, we can live out the will of God here on earth and for eternity in Heaven. Complete happiness can only be attained after this life, but true happiness does start here by saying no to oneself.

Because I wanted to share this great paradox with others, I chose passages from Venerable Sheen found in the new book Finding True Happiness. Sheen’s prescription for happiness is just as relevant to us today as it was decades ago when he first wrote it. In fact, it is even more imperative to get his message out now, because even fewer people know of its value. Finding happiness in self-denial and God-acceptance is a reality we all need to be taught or reminded of.


Used with permission of Trent Beattie and Catholic Exchange.

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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.

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  • patricia

    To find happiness even in disappointment helps us to live the words I must decrease while Christ increase getting rid of unhealthy attachments and self love and to have Christ live in us. In this we can find happiness anywhere.

    My walk home from mass in the pouring rain no umbrella I forgot it. Put on my MP3 player and began the rosary and started to walk home it was pouring yet I could see how beautiful was Gods creation. Then after the rosary the divine mercy and helped me to meditate on Christ passion and the Eucharist. The rosary third mystery birth of our Lord one of the three poverties of Jesus and his cross and passion the second poverty and the Eucharist the third poverty to become food for us. It made the pouring rain just a distraction. Was given some bad news before mass too but if we have Jesus we can find joy even in our disappointments. Mary did she always said yes to God and so should I. Sorry went off track but had to share my finding happiness in the midst of a down pour. Thanks be to God!

  • Terese10

    I agree with what he is saying. But I am not sure how to apply this practically at times. The last three nights I had trouble sleeping over a work problem, where I am being treated unfairly and do not have the support I need to do my job-while my family needs my income to live. I have prayed and prayed about it, searched for other jobs, tried to change my thinking, etc. My happiness is not gone in the sense that I know ultimately that I will be happy in the afterlife. But these worries are making me unsettled in the present. I offer this up for the salvation of someone I know, but I am not “happy” in one sense. How do I find happiness when I know that I am being blamed for things at work and there is nothing I can do about it? How do I “will” myself to be happy in a situation like this? Or am I missing what he is saying?

    • Camila

      Hi Terese10,

      Here are some food for thought…. You say “these worries are making me unsettled in the present” and “how do I ‘will’ myself to be happy?”

      We make a choice (will) to hold every thought captive in obedience to Christ (2 Cor 10:5) and Christ has told us not to worry about our life, what we will eat or about our body, what we will wear (Matthew 6:25). In other words, you can chose to deny yourself the thoughts of worrying. By denying yourself – you will be doing what Trent talked about and by not worrying you will find happiness.

      You also say “I know that I am being blamed for things at work and there is nothing I can do about it.” Here your words reminded me of what I read in a letter by St. Therese of Lisieux. She said “When we’re misunderstood and judged unfavorably, what good does it do to defend or explain ourselves? Let the matter drop and say nothing. It’s so much better to say nothing and allow others to judge us as they please! We don’t see in the Gospel where Mary explained herself when her sister accused her of remaining at Jesus’ feet, doing nothing! She didn’t say: ‘Oh, Martha, if you only knew the joy I am experiencing, if you only heard the words I hear! And besides, it’s Jesus who told me to remain here. ‘ No, she preferred to remain silent. O blessed silence that gives so much peace to souls!”

      St. Therese (pray for Terese10).

      • Terese10

        Thank you. This helps a lot!

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