It’s probably not very often that I’ll be able to say that I spent yesterday with a group of 17 young people reflecting on happiness with a Benedictine monk. Fr Christopher Jamison spoke about feeling good, doing good and knowing good and it felt like a gift to share the day with him.
What do you do to feel happy? That was the first question we were asked to consider. Listening to music, being with friends, eating junk food, playing electronic games and doing sport were among the things that people shared. It was clear that, on one level, we already knew what to do to feel happy – we didn’t need any help with that.
Fr Christopher pointed out that while all those things can be good, there is also a danger that having too much of many of them could lead to the opposite of happiness. If we depend on the feeling of happiness, what do we do when we’re low or lonely or out of money? Is happiness beyond our reach?
This brought us to the idea of doing good. What good have we done? We compiled a long list of things: supporting friends with mental illness and disabilities, helping at home, listening, giving things away, random acts of kindness. There was a general recognition that doing good can make us happy and certainly that we have within us the ability to bring happiness to other people.
Sometimes, though, we have to choose being feeling good and doing good. This video was a good illustration of the kinds of decisions that life brings us: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqW84jSlFLk
In the afternoon we considered knowing good and so we settled ourselves down for 5 minutes of silence, contemplating the phrase from the psalms ‘be still and know that I am God’. Perhaps more than the word ‘happiness’ can describe, connecting with God can be a great source of joy, as we become aware of our desire that has been for God all along.
I don’t know about the young people but the question that I was left with at the end of the day was: if we know where we can find happiness, why don’t we go there more often? Why do we fool ourselves and so often try to take a shortcut to a partial happiness with shopping, food and drink, and any kind of escapism? It’s not that these things aren’t good; it’s just that we try to satisfy ourselves with them when we know there is more. More happiness. More good to know.
These are probably quite tricky concepts for a teenager to take on board especially when we are surrounded by the message that happiness can be bought or easily obtained. I know I am far from having perfectly good habits myself. But what a gift it would be if we could become aware of the source of true happiness; belonging to the one who loves us and re-makes us to enjoy all the goodness there is on offer.