28 May 2012

The Art of Happiness

* Translated from the French by the Rev. Matthew Russell, SJ.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau

WHAT must we do to be happy? The thing is not hard. Much knowledge is not necessary for this, nor much talent, but only a real good will to do one's duty. Happiness, as far as it can exist here below, consists in peace, in the joy of a good conscience. Our conscience will be joyous and peaceful if it know not remorse; it will not know remorse if we are careful not to offend God. To fly from sin is, therefore, the chief source of happiness on earth. If our conscience is pure, our life will be happy. There are none happier than saints, for there are none more innocent.


What is it that secures happiness in a home?  Before everything, religion: let all love well our good God, let all say their prayers morning and  night, let all put their trust in divine providence.  In the next place, union: let the members of the household be affectionate toward one another,  having only one heart and one soul, not saying  or doing anything that may pain any one of them.  Thirdly, the spirit of sacrifice: we must be ready to do without something in order to make another member of the family enjoy it, we must give up our own personal tastes to conform to the tastes of others. Finally, pliancy of character:  not to be hard to deal with, touchy, sour, proud; not to be obstinately rooted in one's ideas, not to  grow impatient about mere nothings, but to have a large mind and a generous heart. A family whose members possess these qualities is a paradise on earth.


There is a word which cannot be said too often to every Christian whom God has destined to live, converse and labor in the society of his fellow creatures: Be indulgent. Yes, be indulgent; it is necessary for others, and it is necessary for your own sake. Forget the little troubles that others may cause you; keep up no resentment for the inconsiderate or unfavorable words that may have been said about you; excuse the mistakes and awkward blunders of which you are the victim; always make out good intentions for those who have done you any wrong by imprudent acts or speeches; in a word, smile at everything, show a pleasant face on all occasions; maintain an inexhaustible fund of goodness, patience, and gentleness. Thus you will be at peace with all your brethren; your love for them will suffer no alteration, and their love for you will increase day by day. But above all, you will practice in an excellent manner Christian charity, which is impossible without this toleration and indulgence at every instant.

"I have sought for happiness in the brilliant haunts of society, in sumptuous banquets, in the glare of theatres, I have sought it again in the possession of gold, in the excitement of the gaming-table, in the illusions of romance; but all in vain — whilst an hour passed in visiting a sick person, or in consoling some afflicted one, has been enough to give me enjoyment more delightful than all delights." — Anon.


Flattery is never worth anything; but to give a little praise at the right moment to someone under us is an excellent way of encouraging him and giving him a pleasure as sweet as it is salutary. For this a mere "thank you" is enough, an approving smile, a kind look, or even a simple word, such as these: "I am greatly pleased" — "that has succeeded very well" — "this is precisely what I wanted," etc. Why should we always keep up an air of indifference and coldness toward workmen, servants, children, opening our mouths only when we have some rebuke to give them? Is this charitable? Is this Christian? Let us put ourselves in the place of these inferiors, and let us be happy in making them happy. Let us show ourselves satisfied with their good will and make them understand that we love them. Not only will they serve us much better and attach themselves to us with true devotedness, but we shall thus gain their hearts, and it will then be easy for us to secure their fidelity to the duties of religion and the fulfillment of the practices of Christian piety.


Economy is praiseworthy; stinginess is not: it contracts the heart of a man and makes him miserable. Pious persons must be on their guard against this snare of the devil, for many are caught in it without knowing. Some persons will give several dollars to a beggar, and an hour after they will haggle about three pennies with an honest workman, or go on bargaining about some worth- less object. Pious Catholics ought not to let it be said that they are harder and fonder of money than other people! They ought not to be afflicted by or bewail any little losses that they may suffer. Let us be economical when there is question of our pleasures, of our table, or of our dress; but let us be large-hearted and generous in all our relations with others.


A poet was gazing one day at a beautiful rose-tree. "What a pity," said he, "that these roses have thorns!" A man who was passing by said to him: "Let us rather thank our good God for having allowed these thorns to have roses." Ah! how ought we also to thank Him for so many joys that He grants to us in spite of our sins, instead of complaining about the slight troubles that He sends us!


Let us do good, let us avoid evil, and we shall be happy. "There is but one way," said a man of genius, "of being happy, and it is to do well all one's duties."

How sweet and agreeable an occupation it is to give pleasure to those around us! It is quite natural amongst Christians, but it becomes almost a duty amongst the members of a family or a community, especially toward persons whom age or rank places above us. And, to give pleasure, what is necessary? Things the most insignificant, provided they be accompanied by amiable manners; what is necessary above all is to have habitually a smile on our lips. Oh! who can tell the power of a smile ? For ourselves, it is the guardian of kindness, patience, tolerance, all the virtues that we have occasion to exercise in our relations with our neighbor. There is, in fact, no danger of our being rude or severe so long as a smile rests on our lips. For others, it is a source of contentment, joy, satisfaction and encouragement. Without even uttering a single word we put those around us at their ease; we inspire them with a sweet confidence, if we approach them with a smile. Perhaps you will object that you cannot smile, that you are naturally serious or even severe. Undeceive yourself: with real good will you will acquire this empire over yourself, you will soon do by custom what you at first did by constraint; and the interior joy that you taste will recompense you superabundantly for your trouble and your efforts.

Keep Calm and Fulfill Your Duties
A great secret for preserving peace of heart is to do nothing with overeagerness, but to act always calmly, without trouble or disquiet. We are not asked to do much, but to do well. At the Last Day God will not examine whether we have performed a multitude of works, but whether we have sanctified our souls in doing them. Now the means of sanctifying ourselves is to do everything for God and to do perfectly whatever we have to do. The works that have as their motive vanity or selfishness make us neither better nor happier, and we shall receive no reward for them. 


"I feel happy," said a holy person, "in proportion as I do my actions well." Let us meditate an instant on this luminous saying. To do well what one has to do— here again is the secret of being happy. Every man, then, can be happy; and, if we have not been happy hitherto, it is because we have not put this lesson into practice. But what is necessary for this? Oh, very little. To do every action with a view of pleasing God; to do every action in the manner that God commands, either through Himself or through those who hold His place in our regard; to do every action as if we had nothing else to do but this, and as if we were to die after having done it.

There are some who are affable and gracious to everyone as long as things go according to their wishes; but if they meet with a contradiction, if an accident, a reproach or even less should trouble the serenity of their soul, all around them must suffer the consequences. They grow dark and cross; very far from keeping up the conversation by their good humor, they answer only in monosyllables to those who speak to them. Is this conduct reasonable? Is it Christian? Let us always be kind and good-humored so as always to make our brethren happy, and we shall merit to be always made happy by God.


Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, blessed are they that mourn, blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the clean of heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake. Blessed are ye when they shall revile you and persecute you for My sake. St. Matthew v, 3-11.

Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it. St. Luke xi, 28.

Blessed is the man that endureth temptation. St. James i, 12.

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. Apocalypse xiv, 13.

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