Monday, January 04, 2010


It seems that among the things to which those of us in some considerable pain must resign ourselves are the well-intentioned efforts of (our?)(Job's?) friends to urge us to reconsider our potential for happiness. Last fall, in the wake of one such conversation (full post here), I concluded that:

<<to say that the point of life is "to be happy" renders our existence virtually pointless, while the alternative, "to know God," offers us dignity and significance. If all that is available to me in the face of the death of my child is "to choose happiness" ~ well, that seems to me to represent the epitome of triviality. However, if knowledge of God ~ which would also mean knowledge of love, knowledge of ways to remain present to those I care for, knowledge of my life having some purpose ~ remains a possibility, then there is a point to life. >>

Today, Tim Muldoon, a writer over at Ignatian Spirituality, offers the following:

<Finding Happiness, which is perfect for those of a resolution frame of mind. Written by a Benedictine abbot (of Worth Abbey, in Sussex), the book looks at the development of the philosophy of happiness in the West, from the Greeks into the monastic period of the Church, focusing on the Eight Thoughts (acedia, gluttony, lust, greed, anger, sadness, vanity, and pride) which get in the way of happiness. Remove the eight thoughts, he suggested, following the 4th century monk John Cassian, and you remove what makes you unhappy.

As a historical note, when Ignatius wrote the Spiritual Exercises he was using a tradition that was already long established in monastic history, so what Jamison has to say about happiness is very much in the same vein as what Ignatius was aiming for. The idea is common in the Church Fathers and Mothers, Aquinas and the scholastics, and Ignatius: remove sin so that God’s grace may work in your life. That’s happiness. (Not necessarily pleasure–they all followed Aristotle on this point, that pleasure is passing but happiness is a way of being at work in the world. Pleasure is fine, but it comes and goes.)>>

Perhaps my own (and my friend's) confused thought was merging happiness with pleasure. I am willing to hazard a guess that in talking about "knowledge of God" I was in the vicinity of Jamison's discussion of happiness, and that what perturbed me so much about my friend's insistence on happiness was my perception that she wanted me to find a way to have some fun.

I believe that I can say with some authority that mothers who have lost children to suicide are not thinking much about fun ~ but we are focused intently on meaning of life questions. And on questions such as whether our own lives will ever again be about anything beyond endurance.

And so: I am thinking I'll take a look at this book.

AFTER ordination exams.

(And for all who have followed our miserable vacation saga: we are home and have learned that, indeed, middle-ear mess-ups can produce total life havoc. It will be awhile before The Quiet Husband can return to work, as he can't really walk or drive, but he should be fine eventually. Many thanks for all the prayers and support.)


Purple said...

Happiness is overrated

karen gerstenberger said...

I'm so glad it's been diagnosed. I hope he is feeling better each day.

I hear you about "happiness." I would love to have a round-table with other bereaved parents about this someday. Our grief is part of everything, has affected everything, seeps into everything. Yes, we have much for which we are thankful, and much in our lives is good...but at this point, our sadness is also always here, because SHE is not. Thank you for your honesty (as usual).

Mompriest said...

Happiness is fleeting at best - as in I really enjoyed that movie, pleasure is momentary - as in this meal is delicious....but I do hope that one of these days I can feel content, or at least peaceful, or at the very least accepting of the reality that this is my life.

I'm really grateful that your husband will be fine and that you are preparing for your ordination exam. I will pray for you during those exams....but, they to are overrated.

Rev SS said...

Catching up after being away ... blessings on your exam prep, and prayers for healing for Quiet Husband

Daisy said...

Had the middle-ear thing myself; no picnic, that's for sure. Hope he's feeling better soon.

Yes, it's good to define what we mean by happiness.