What happiness is not

We tend to equate happiness with two things, pleasure and lack of tension. Hence we fantasize that for us to be happy we would need to be in a situation within which we would be free of all the tensions that normally flood into our lives from: pressure, tiredness, interpersonal friction, physical pain, financial worry, disappointment in our jobs, frustration with our churches, frustration with our favorite sports teams, and every other headache and heartache that can appear. Happiness, as it is superficially conceived of, means perfect health, perfectly fulfilled relationships, a perfect job, no anxiety or tension in life, no disappointments, and the time and money to enjoy the good life.

But that isn’t what constitutes happiness. Meaning is what constitutes happiness and meaning isn’t contingent upon pain and tension being absent from our lives. C.S. Lewis taught that happiness and unhappiness color backwards: If our lives end up happy, we realize that we have always been happy even through the trying times, just as if our lives end up unhappy we realize that we have always been unhappy, even during the pleasurable periods of our lives. Where we end up ultimately in terms of meaning will determine whether our lives have been happy or unhappy. Happiness has a lot more to do with meaning than with pleasure.

Ron Rolheiser, Meaning and Happiness.

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