Monday 19 May 2014

Because I'm Happy

By Brother Daniel Leckman, S.J.

Last week I met up with an old friend. I had not seen him since the early 2000s so I was really looking forward to chatting with him again. When he and I were two young, idealistic McGill students we used to have rather intense conversations together about life, God, the arts, spirituality, love and anything else under the sun. We realized last weekend that not much had changed between us since those days. Although not a religious person, he is more aware of the need for spirituality in our world than most of my non-believing friends and family. Consequently, it was a pleasure for me to field questions from him during the evening because I could tell he was genuinely interested in my experiences of the past few years. After a certain point, he asked me a question that caught me off guard:

“What makes you happy?”

Perhaps if I had answered, “Jesus does”, that would have made sense. The thing is, Jesus challenges me, inspires me, brings me peace, makes me feel loved, and gives me something to look forward to and to strive for every single day. All these things can lead to the deep transformative joy that Pope Francis speaks of in Evangelii Gaudium; a joy that leads us to constant renewal (EG, 1). So in that sense, Jesus does make me happy, probably more often than I could ever imagine.  And yet … I’m not sure my spiritual mind focuses on Jesus as being the sole source of all that happiness. After all, it would be difficult for me to reduce the complexity of Christ and his profound love to one, single feeling.

So, when pondering over this question my friend had asked, I stumbled a bit. My response to the question was a very long pause. Finally, and somewhat against my own will, I said:

“The happiness of others.”

I say against my own will because (a) that response sounded corny at the time (perhaps it still is!) and (b) I was not 100% sure that is was the truth.

In fact, the answer felt forced and not genuine. However, one thing I would eventually have to re-learn about myself that night was that I may have many faults and there are many aspects of my personality that I’m not proud of: but being disingenuous is not one of them. In other words, if something came into my heart loudly enough for me to speak it in front of others then there must have been some truth to it.

Indeed there was. These past few weeks, a sensation has quietly entered my consciousness, a sense of happiness that is rooted in the joy and laughter of others. This isn't always my response to people’s joy. Occasionally, my response will be, “Why can’t I be that happy?” This envy of other people’s joy isn’t pleasant but it’s a process I need to go through in order to realize: hey, wait a sec … I have no reason to be envious because I'm happy!

Maybe I'm not Pharrell Williams happy; but it's a different kind of happiness, one that I would like to share with others.  A happiness that I know will last even in the darkest of times.  One that I want to use as a response to the misery and anger of the world. In that sense, I would like my happiness to resemble less Mr. Williams' idea of happiness (although there is nothing wrong with that at all), and more the one described by The Association, in their 1967 “hippy anthem”, “Windy“. This song describes a person named Windy who seems to embody the return of spring to the city. She is someone who carries sunlight on her face, smiles at everyone she sees, and stands firm against the lies of the world. She is someone who is transformed by her happiness.  This is the ideal for me. I just have to remember that the Gospel offers me that joy every day. Finally, I must heed the invitation of Pope Francis. Francis reminds us that, while it’s not a sin to keep our faith private and personal, it isn’t Christian to keep that joy to ourselves. Christ is risen. I know this in my mind. Now, I yearn to live the joy that these three words bring to me in every aspect of my life. It’s an ambitious desire, but it’s one that makes me incredibly happy!

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