Tuesday 8 February 2022

How to Be Happy - Fr Paul Nicholson SJ

How to Be Happy
Catholic Truth Society

ISBN 9781784696047
CTS Booklet PA 58

I was intrigued by this book from by the cover and the title. Over the last few years I have read over 250 books from the Catholic Truth Society. This was the first book by Father Paul Nicholson SJ that I have read. He has several books, but I believe only 1 other from the CTS. The chapters in this volume are:

1. The Pursuit of Happiness   
           Elusive happiness 
           To look redeemed 
2. Four False Trails to Happiness 
           Made happy by what I have 
           Striving for perfection 
           Work harder and longer 
           Comfort, without challenge 
3. Help Yourself to Happiness 
           Mind, Body, Spirit 
           Stoicism and detachment 
4. Four Pillars of Happiness 
           Morality and conscience 
           The examined life 
5. Happiness as Personal 
           What makes you happy? 
            “Know thyself” 
6. Practices Promoting Happiness 
           Focus elsewhere 
           Sense of purpose 
7. Happiness as Gift
           Happiness as gift, not achievement 
           An afterword on heaven 

And the description of the booklet is:

“Everyone is searching for happiness, but when we really explore what lies at the heart of this goal we find that it is inextricably linked to our search for God.

The harder we try to achieve happiness, the more elusive it becomes. In the process of trying, we find we are working harder, longer, and less productively to fulfil our pursuits, creating not happiness but stress and anxiety. What can we do to break this vicious spiral? This title uses this question as a means to uncover the truth about what lies at the heart of our pursuit of happiness: our search for God.”

It was an interesting read. I highlighted many passages my first time through, they were.

“How to be Happy is important.  Because happiness isn’t something like good weather, that we have no control over, and just have to wait until it arrives (and enjoy it when it does!) Happiness is something that we can to some extent at least work towards, or open ourselves up to  - there are things that we can do to help ourselves be happy.”  

“The truth is that people find themselves drawn to others who look happy, and even more to those who are in reality enjoying that state. When we see someone like that, we want to know their secret.  Because there is much about human life that is challenging, and tiring, and can easily wear people down, and happy people are no more exempt from those aspects of the human condition than anybody else.  So perhaps, in coming close to people like that, who seem to have the knack of being happy despite suffering from the same trials as everybody else, it is possible to learn from them, and thus become happier in our own lives.”

So if I can be happy, and look happy, I am more likely to be able to help other people who are trying to do the same.  My happiness itself gives me a chance to witness to its source, which, as we shall explore in these pages, is ultimately the gift of God. So it is not always selfish to want to be happy. It may, indeed, be the best possible service that I can offer to the people round about me.

“It is worth admitting that there is no obvious and quick way out of this situation.  Just employment practices, adequate living standards for all, and the removal of glaring global inequalities have never, and will never, be achieved without the long, painstaking, collective effort.”

“We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity. Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.”
Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

“Stoicism is a philosophy developed in ancient Greece which holds that human beings can and should accept whatever they encounter in the present moment, while cultivating an attitude that enables them to escape from the desire for pleasure or happiness, and indeed from the fear of pain.  

In his book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis distinguishes between four kinds of love, each of which is capable of contributing to the kind of relationship that leads to happiness.  Three are naturally characteristic of human beings: empathy, friendship and erotic attraction. The fourth, and greatest, is that unconditional love to be found in God which can also be, in Lewis’ view, cultivated as a specifically Christian virtue.  
For Ignatius, this consolation, and its attendant happiness, become the chief criterion of discernment. I can review my past choices, and notice which of them led me into greater consolation.  I can look to possible futures, and the choices that will lead to them, and try to come to a sense of which will be more likely to point me in the same way.” 

“Knowing which will contribute to my greater happiness, and being able to use that as the basis of my choice (and not simply be ruled by habit or immediate comfort) is not always easy.”

“By contrast, the picture of happiness presented here is a more complex one.  This is not to say that it is impossible to achieve, or is available only to spiritual high-flyers. But here are many factors to be taken into account in pursuing happiness, and many false trails that start off full of promise but ultimately lead nowhere.”

“It may well in fact be the case that the happiest people would not think it necessary to read books on finding happiness, or spend  time considering how they themselves might grow in this quality.”

“In short, happiness is often best thought of as a by-product of other things – cultivating fulfilling relationships, or making an attitude of gratitude habitual in your life – rather than as a goal in itself to be focussed on too intently.”

“If I am able to find meaning in my life, in the things that happen to me, it is easier to be happy even in times of difficulty.  Writing a journal offers a chance to pause and to reflect, and thus to come to greater clarity about the meaning of my experiences.  And, as with the examen, once I am clearer about what is going on there will often be more chance of doing what I can to build on what is good.”

“John’s gospel tells the story differently. For him, the central action of that evening came when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, normally the task of the lowest household servant.  He then makes of them the same request that in the other gospels accompanies the Eucharist – that they themselves should continue to do this in his memory.  Here the request comes with a promise: if they will only behave in this way, they will be makarioi, a word that can be translated as blessed or happy.”

“Some of what has been written here, for instance about not getting too caught up in material possessions, or the value of journaling, might also sit quite comfortably within those other pages.  But there is a fundamental difference between self-help and the Christian outlook being explored here.  Ultimately, for a follower of Jesus, happiness depends not on self-help but on God-help.”

The book presents many of the ways those in the world seek happiness, and how it will never succeed in the long term. It does an interesting job looking at the pros and cons of different ways people pursue happiness. While reading the book I though often of a favourite from last year, How to be Happy - How to be Holy by Paul O'Sullivan. I hope the quotes above give you a good idea of what to expect in the volume. It is worth the read, and I can easily recommend it. 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Books by Father Paul Nicholson SJ:
Pathways to God: A Guide to the Practice of Silent Prayer
Growing Into Silence
Advent Pilgrimage
The Art of Spiritual Direction: A Guide to Ignatian Practice (Forward)
Chosen by God: Pedro Arrupe's Retreat Notes, 1965

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