Posted by Roberta Grimes • May 04, 2024 • 10 Comments
Human Nature, The Teachings of Jesus

To dream the impossible dream. To fight the unbeatable foe.
To bear with unbearable sorrow. To run where the brave dare not go.
To right the un-rightable wrong. To love, pure and chaste from afar.
To try when your arms are too weary to reach the unreachable star.

This is my quest! To follow that star!
No matter how hopeless. No matter how far.
To fight for the right without question or pause.

To be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause!
And I know if I’ll only be true to this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I’m laid to my rest.
– Mitch Leigh (1928-2014) & Joe Darion (1917-2001), from “Man of La Mancha” (1965)

The fundamental fact of each human life is that we spend our lives chasing happiness. Every day, and each in our own way, all of us are chasing that good-feeling, heart-lifting and for most people that all-too-elusive ecstatic sense of joy. We all want to be happy! So. why are so many people so often miserable? Or if not actually miserable, then why is it that so often people just go through their days in a kind of fog of humdrum blah-ness? When you stop and think about that question, you will find that it begins to weigh on you. Because, absolutely right, that magical feeling of true and deep-down happiness is the universal human drug of choice. No matter who you are, and no matter what may be going on in your life, you want to be happy all the time, and you want everyone you love to be happy, too. 

After food, happiness is our deepest human need. In fact, happiness is such a basic human craving that the right to pursue it is granted to American citizens in our founding documents. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he began it by writing: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Amen to that!

The search for happiness is why so many people chase money with such intensity. Being wealthy looks to many of us to be a shortcut to feeling happy at least most of the time. That is also why people might chase the physical pleasures, like recreational drugs and overeating, and sexual pleasure in all its forms. People chase these distractions as ends in themselves, although we know that they can be highly self-destructive behaviors, and actually they are likely to make us less happy later. But at least for right this minute, they can give us what feels like a surge of real happiness. Stop and think about it, though. Has any druggy obese sex fiend ever said in the end that it all was worth it? And given that everyone wants to be happy, how many consistently truly happy people have you ever known in your life?

I learned in college that we each have our own individual happiness set-point. Some people are just naturally happier than others. And also, some people are what we might call natural depressives, who have to work much harder than others have to work at being happy. My mother was one of the luckiest ones. She had scarcely an unhappy moment in a life that was really not especially blessed, and she was always semi-smiling. As her daughter, I grew up with more or less her same attitude, because what was there ever to be unhappy about? I went to Smith College, which is an all-female school, and our closest male college down the road was Yale. On weekends, there were often mixers.

It was first then that I was made to realize how irritating always-happy people can be. As some of the girls got to know some of the boys on repeated weekends, I recall that there was one especially sour Yalie who found my very existence to be an annoyance. I still remember that guy, to this day. Soon, whenever he saw me he would mutter loudly before he turned away, “There she is again, the happiest girl in the happiest of all possible worlds.” And I would feel indignant and highly insulted! All I could huffily think was, So what’s wrong with being happy? I realize now of course that for people who are living unhappy lives to see consistent happiness in others feels to them like a direct affront. And a Yalie from a wealthy family was probably facing complex pressures that a middle-class Smithie on a scholarship could not image. I wish I could tell that boy today that I would be more sympathetic to him now.

Because after having spent forty years as an attorney for more than five hundred owners of closely-held businesses in the course of an enjoyable career, I can entirely disabuse us all of one theory. Emphatically, wealth does not buy happiness. Of all the business owners that I ever have worked with, I would say that ninety-five percent of them have been multi-millionaires. And all of them have been wonderful people, so good and kindly that to this day there are some that I still love as if they were members of my own family. But yet, I would say that none of them have been especially happy, really, in part because they were such good people. On the contrary, increased wealth brings with it added complexity, more responsibility for relatives and others, and the worries of added investment concerns. For most or all of them, their wealth has contributed to a burden of cares that the average middle-class person is fortunate to be able to avoid. And then comes the eventual process of retirement. What I have found to my horror is that very wealthy people who own and run businesses often have a lot of trouble letting go. And if their retirement was handled too precipitously, some of my clients who simply have up and sold their businesses so they suddenly were able to literally roll in greenbacks tended to die within a few years’ time. Eventually, I learned to custom-design for each business owner a gradual five- or even a ten-year transition plan through a semi-retirement phase that had as its centerpiece something new and useful that they personally were eager to do!

Okay, so if money can’t buy happiness, and if the short-term highs of drugs and food and recreational sex turn out to be unsatisfactory happiness lures as well, then where does the key to real happiness lie? I actually do suspect, based on having watched my mother’s life, my own life, and the lives of some others, that in part, a tendency toward happiness really is genetic. Both of my parents were Danish, so that is my genetic heritage as well. And, what do you know, for the umpteenth time, Denmark turns out yet again this year to be either the happiest or the second-happiest country on earth. Since Scandinavian countries always top the list, and since those countries are cold and dreary for much of the year and they really don’t have much to recommend them, and since after seventy-odd years of life I frankly cannot tell you what being depressed even would feel like, I have come to think that the notion of genetics as a contributing factor to happiness has some merit.

But still, there is a lot more to happiness than genetics. So, how then can we best pursue happiness? As always, Jesus has the best suggestion, but first let’s hear what some other notables have to say. I consider these quotations to be the deepest wisdom:

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” ― Abraham Lincoln

“I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.” – Thomas A. Edison   

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.” ― Mother Teresa

“What makes you happiest is spending your life for a cause that is greater than yourself.” – I don’t know who said that, but for years I had it taped to the wall above my desk, together with Einstein’s “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”

I think you may begin to get the drift. In fact, nothing that comes from outside of you ever can make you happy, and if you become dependent on anything from outside of you – or even on any person outside of you – that will only tend to make your life miserable. And I say this as someone who has been joyously married for five decades. Nothing that you can acquire, and no amount of worldly praise, and in fact nothing that comes from the world at all ever can make you happy in anything more than a brief and transitory way. The only possible source of real and deep happiness for any of us is internal. Happiness always comes from within us.

Happiness must be who you are. And knowing that is a great relief, is it not? Because it means that you and I can stop right now looking outside ourselves for happiness! And instead, we know that the series of quotations given above can indeed be taken as the beginning of wisdom. We begin with ourselves, and then we turn to Jesus. And Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of the One who sent Me, and to finish His work” (JN 4:34). To you and me He says, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (LK 17:20-21).

If our only source of real happiness is within us, then wow, that is wonderful to hear! And now you know just what to do. You simply open the whole top of your head and nicely tidy up your living room, and then you invite God and your beloved Wayshower and Best Friend to come right in and make themselves at home and offer them glorious cups of ambrosia so they can spend some quality time with you. There is a lot that the three of you have to talk about, now that you have come to realize that making your life simple and filling it with purpose is going to make you very happy indeed!

Oh my goodness, Jesus can sound radical when He calls people to come and follow Him. He wants us not to have any earthly distractions at all in our lives, but to give everything that we own to the poor, and to rely on God to supply all our needs! For example, when a rich young man wanted to become Jesus’s disciple, Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. (MT 19:21-24). And when Jesus first called the Twelve together, and He gave them power and authority over all the demons, and to heal diseases, and He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing, He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a carrying bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics apiece” (LK 9:1-3).

Jesus calls upon us now to learn to rely only on Him. That is the great lesson of human life, is it not? We brought nothing material into this life, and it is certain that we will take nothing material out of it. So clinging to things will never make you happy. There always is something more that you can buy. There never is a top to that ladder of possessions! But when personally doing for other people is your only goal, then each individual interaction makes you very happy indeed. Your return on investment is phenomenal!

“We spend the first half of our life accumulating stuff, and the second half getting rid of it.” A much older friend made that remark to me long ago, and more and more now I see the truth of what he said. Once you realize that the only happiness is within you, you likely will begin to see so much of what you own as just obstacles to your own happiness, as I have come to see all material possessions as obstacles to mine. And as this sweet Ted talk suggests, our reliable friend Gratitude plays such an important part in helping us to find the best aspects of happiness within us. As we stop looking for happiness anywhere else but within ourselves, and as we ask Jesus for His help in finding our own best and truest happiness, we find it easier, and we find it so freeing to give to those who need them our superfluous material possessions. And the more we give things away, the more we gradually come to see that actually, most of what we own seems superfluous. And the more we give away, the lighter and freer we feel as we enter this joyous spiritual phase of our earthly lives!

And the world will be better for this:
that one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
to reach the unreachable stars!
– Mitch Leigh (1928-2014) & Joe Darion (1917-2001), from “Man of La Mancha” (1965)


Roberta Grimes
Latest posts by Roberta Grimes (see all)

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

10 thoughts on “Happiness

  1. How to be happy:

    Eating more Danish apparently doesn’t do the trick. Instead, it plays tricks on your waistline. 🙂

    Reading Roberta’s weekly Sunday blogs helps, and I have gratefully been addicted to them like forever…

    My kids used to attend Jhoon Rhee’s Teakwando, and he had the students recite 4 daily affirmations after class, and one of them went something like this:

    “I am happy, because I choose to be happy”.

    He was certainly instilling the right mindset in these young kids and their parents, I must add!

    Giving, kindness, compassion, gratitude, prevenient forgiveness, unconditonal love, sharing, encouraging, etc., etc are all sortcuts to happiness.

    The well-known Anita Moorjani says that if all else fails, there is always chocolate. 🙂

    The other day I woke up to the music of Mozart (“Eine kleine Nachtmusik”) playing in my head. So, Anita, and anyone else: if you run out of chocolate there is always Mozart (or Vivaldi or Telemann, etc.) to cheer you up and get those happiness beads dancing around in your heart again.

    Today is Eastern Orthodox Easter: a good day to remember that the Light of Christ is always here to assist and guide us.

    Happy Easter and Sunday to everyone!

    1. Oh good grief! I can’t believe you actually made a joke about eating Danishes, my dear Adrian! And I’m with Anita – some chocolate must always be a definite component of internal happiness 🙂 And after we had drafted this post, it occurred to me that classical music really ought to have been addressed in it somehow as an aspect of happiness, but I would have favored Rachmaninoff probably; I like the heavy stuff. Still, thank you for your thoughtful contribution my dear one!

    2. Hi adrian. Wow, Jhoon Rhee, a martial arts legend! Your kids should be happy having a parent who provided study with him.

  2. Interesting topic, well covered per usual. My emotional set point is to be moderately depressed. I had not realized that until I watched a tv program about depression, and learned I lived many of the signs. But even then, I realize happiness in so many ways. For example, when a week passes without a threatening message from my Gestapo HOA, and I realize that escape, I feel happy. When my old auto passes the yearly smog test for registration, I’m so relieved, I feel blessed and happy. When my bills for the month are less than my retirement income, that’s enough relief to make me feel happy. There’s more, but I think the point is made. Coming from a depressed posture, it does not take much to create happiness–at least for a joyful moment.

    And too, in my old age I have learned that God is real, that the only real thing is God, and that everything is made by God from God’s own being, from His consciousness. These facts are hidden from our memory to enable our mortal life to have a degree of substance and meaning that enriches our soul upon return to Heaven. Learning that we are of God, who loves all of His Creation, is enough to make me happy whenever I reflect on that joyful fact.

    1. Oh my dear beautiful Jack, this is all so very sweetly said! And I think that a lot of people arrive at a point in their lives where they feel more or less this way, my dear one, where they are uplifted by these very small gifts, and it doesn’t take much at all. You are speaking for many, and so wonderfully. You have found God, and God is all, and omigod that whole second paragraph is so beautiful, I know that to read it makes Jesus smile!

  3. Robert Redford?! said that happiness comes in moments.
    I think we are given flashes of happiness to keep us on our spiritual path.
    Remember: Keep it simple, Stupid!

    1. Well maybe, my dear Erica, we can speak with more love at this point, and say instead, “Keep it simple, beautiful one”?

  4. Dearest Roberta and everyone,
    I so concur with commenters above, on their reflections on happiness. So many ideas I share, it seems. Yes, chocolate is the real food-of-the-gods. Yes to Vivaldi, Mozart, also Grieg. Yes to diminished bills, the absence of downers from certain people and to singing birds on dewy branches!

    And certainly, let’s hear it for flashes and moments of happiness that brighten us and remind us of Spirit!

    But oh, to lead a simple life; to lead it however you can manage it, in a busy city or rural town. (A cabin in the wilderness is the idyllic image of such a lifestyle, but it is available only to some people and, by its very nature, discourages linking with others.)

    One can simplify personal philosophy, streamline possessions and reduce technological influences. One can clarify the inner self, somewhat more wisely, and live in an ethical way, giving more and asking less. Thus happiness may dawn anew as a slow sunrise that cannot be suppressed. 🌅

    So something that works for me is attaining simplicity. This does involve gratitude, forgiveness and love. It also means keeping practical in focus and leaving aside ego thinking. And yet this is not easy:

    “It is simple to be happy, but it is not easy to be simple.” – Rabindranath Tagore.

    In addition I wouldn’t be so lifted, had I not the privilege of your weekly blog posts, Roberta. Seriously, Thomas and your good self shine light onto our paths to happiness.

    1. Oh my sweet Efrem, thank you for saying this! There are weeks when I do wonder whether there will be a finished blog post on time, because there is so much else going on in my life! And this was one of those weeks. I had a cousin and a son-in-law both in the hospital, and other family and client complications, and after Thomas gave me the title I wasn’t sure where we were supposed to go with it. So this was one post that he really swooped in and speed-wrote all on his own on Friday. He did a pretty good job, too, I must say!

  5. Dear Roberta. Great blog! Having too much of ourselves invested in procuring or accomplishing anything puts conditions on being happy.
    Jack touches on the idea that we can be both depressed and happy. I think one is a pre birth plan to make it not so easy to have the other. (The growth is in the hassle).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *