The Gregorian Institute Shield, composed of the crossed gold and silver keys of the Papal Insignia, an open book with the words 'Via Veritas Vita' ('The Way, the Truth, and the Life') written on its pages, three golden six-sided stars on a red banner, and a Germanic cross.

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4 Ways to Be Happy, No Matter What


Happiness is within your reach.

Late January is the most unhappy time of the year. Christmas is long gone, leaving only bills, and winter stretches out ahead as far as the eyes can see. Add a pandemic and political tension and you have the recipe for serious unhappiness.

The incomparable Father Robert Spitzer has a great take on “The Four Levels of Happiness” that you can get in his book, through his website, or on YouTube. Here is how I have found his approach helpful this January.

The first level of happiness comes from maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain.

This is the easiest happiness to get, the easiest to lose, and the least likely to make you very happy for very long.

Our world is remarkably good at delivering this kind of happiness. You can get great food in a box, thrilling video games, and a ready supply of alcohol or, increasingly, other recreational drugs.

The problem is that all of these things make life without pleasure unbearable, and life is often without pleasure. Worse: they desensitize us to subtle pleasures so that only high-octane pleasures can touch us. Boredom is the greatest threat to a person who lives for pleasure-happiness, and the rush to end boredom often ends in anxiety and regret.

Paradoxically, the best way to get this kind of happiness is through moderation, and the best way to build moderation is to occasionally fast.

Second is the happiness that comes from winning.

This happiness comes from comparing yourself to others. You get gratification from having more than your neighbor — more talent, more money, more prestige, more taste, more stuff.

Often, this means trying to find something you have more of and hanging your hat on that. Our society is great at this one, too. We have industries that help us get more and more, and social media to create the image of the “more” we want to be and to get likes, shares, and comments to prove we are #winning.

It is important to have positive self-esteem, but too much reliance on level-two happiness leaves you always one loss away from despair. You see this often in people who give their hearts to politics. We over-celebrate political victories and catastrophize political defeats.

The best way to address this is through prayer. The more you focus on God, the less the comparisons matter. His love is enough, and it is humbling in a good way.

Third is the happiness of making a difference.

This way to happiness is much deeper and more satisfying. It comes from finding your worth in making a difference in the world and bettering other people. Our culture has a lot of opportunities for this, too, offering chances to give at the store, online, and in the mailbox. 

Our culture also provides dead-end ways to pursue this one: virtue-signaling, activism and political correctness can make us “feel” like we are making a difference while we are really slipping back into the ego-driven second level of happiness.

A great way to snap out of the blues is to give alms — especially when this involves giving your time to serve the truly needy.

The fourth level of happiness will flow to you directly from the source of perfect being.

I love how Father Spitzer describes our search for perfect love, perfect truth, perfect goodness, and perfect being. We are constantly dissatisfied with the love we receive from human beings, we never get the ultimate answers we’re looking for, we are always haunted by life’s unfairness, and we never feel perfectly at home.

But it is possible to find all of these things, in God. Father Michael Gaitley recently gave some great advice in this regard, a way to review the blessings in your life daily.

But studies show (see Spitzer) that the best way to find “fourth-level” happiness is in church. 

Mass might not seem like the most blessed place on earth, but it is: It is the place where the source of all perfection enters our imperfection and delivers every level of happiness: The pleasures of music and art, positive self-esteem, a sense of purpose — and his real presence.

Happiness is being with God.

This appeared at Aleteia.
Image: Wiki-media commons


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Tom Hoopes

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Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II, The Fatima Family Handbook and What Pope Francis Really Said, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia and the Register. He lives in Atchison, Kansas, with his wife, April, and has nine children.