How happy really are we today? How do we define that we have really ‘lived’?
We live in a marketing led world – a place of big dreams and bucket lists. Generally we have a high standard of living, yet we are constantly on the hunt to get more out of life.
We have everything we could possibly need, but still feel that our lives are incomplete. According to what comes across from the media this isn’t until we’ve taken selfies on the latest iPhone while flying over Europe wearing a size 0 designer dress and eating a sugar/grain/dairy free cronut. First world problems huh?
We are left feeling that our life is lacking because it is filled with impossible dreams that mean you haven’t lived. Impossible because they aren’t real. They are scripted, photoshopped, or we are unable to access them without personal trainers, dietitians, stylists, nannies, freebies and finances. All of them center on us as the individual and turn us into narcissists.
Unfortunately, most days of our lives are filled with what could be the mundane. Living every day can be hard. Social media puts a glamorous face on everyday life, but underneath lurks despondency and depression.
The best secrets to everyday happiness (nay, joy) have been tried and tested by some wise people who went before us. People who lived not only through the trials of everyday life, but through true hardships – adversities like illness, wrongful imprisonment and concentration camps.
“I will not wait. I will live the present moment, filling it to the brim with love.”
Servant of God Francis Xavier Nguyen van Thuan is a great source of wisdom about living happily everyday. This is coming from a man who spent many years of his life imprisoned, including nine years in solitary confinement in a small dark room. Yet to live the present moment to the fullest was the decision he made when he was first imprisoned to counter his feeling of sadness, abandonment and exhaustion. He decided not to live his life waiting for freedom.
“If I spend my time waiting, maybe the things I look forward to will never arrive. The only thing certain to arrive is death.”
If you focus on the present moment and doing it well, you can’t be too hung up on the past or the future. There can be no regrets that you didn’t live moments well in the past if you were focusing on them in the present.
“Do the Little Things with Love”
St Therese of Lisieux was all about doing the little things with love. Hence, she was called the ‘Little Flower’. St Therese lived a relatively plain and basic life as a nun, though she often was ill. But what makes her a saint, famous worldwide was her resolve to “miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”
Don’t seek all your satisfaction in earthly things
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati had it all. He was a handsome, fun-loving, athletic, courageous man born into a prominent Italian family. Yet instead of living the “good life” he spent much of his life giving to others: growing in spiritual life and prayer; serving the sick, needy orphans and veterans; being involved in political activism; giving constantly to charity; leading his friends in apostolic works and focusing on others. His wisdom was that we “must not squander the best years of our lives as so many unhappy young people do, who worry about enjoying the good things in life, things that do not in fact bring any good, but rather the fruit of immorality in today’s world.” Instead we need constant prayer, organization and discipline to be ready for action at the right moment and to sacrifice ourselves.
Through this he constantly gave himself with joy and called sadness a disease:
“A Catholic cannot help but be happy; sadness should be banished from their souls. Suffering is not sadness, which is the worst disease. This disease is almost always caused by atheism, but the end for which we are created guides us along life’s pathway, which may be strewn with thorns, but is not sad. It is happy even through suffering.”
He died at the young age of 24 and to the surprise of his family, who didn’t know the work he had done in secret, his funeral was attended by thousands of people lining the streets.
Remember, all the little things make a great life
Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, once explained it this way:
“A mother . . . goes home and begins her day made up of a thousand little things. Her life is literally reduced to crumbs, but what she does is no little thing: It is Eucharist with Jesus! A religious sister . . . goes to her daily work among the old, the sick, the children. Her life too might seem split by many small things that leave no trace at night—another day wasted. But her life too is Eucharist. . . . No one should say, ‘What use is my life? What am I doing in this world?’ You are in the world for the most sublime of reasons, to be a living sacrifice. To be Eucharist with Jesus.”
The “crumbs” of our lives are gathered together and bring hope to other people. Each one of us is a treasure.
Most of these ‘secrets’ involve seizing the opportunities that we are given on a daily basis. Enjoying each moment, offering what we have to others and putting away worry, in exchange for hope.
With that, we can weather whatever comes, with joy.
And that is what makes a good life.