ARE YOU HAPPY? fr. Fausto Gómez OP

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In his visits to the brothers, the Master of the Order of Preachers Timothy Radcliffe started the dialogue with a question: Are you happy?

We all want to be happy. The universal longing for happiness is natural – and not free: “To want to be happy is not an object of decision… Every free moral decision is a quest for happiness” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae). Unfortunately, many among us are not happy. As A. Camus said: “Men die and are not happy.” And we are not happy – at east relatively happy – because perhaps we look for happiness where it is not found, in utopian places. Maybe, many of us place our eyes on objects, things, persons that do not – cannot – make us fully happy, although they may contribute to our happiness. What are the usual objects upon which humans place their search for happiness? Money, power, pleasure, honors, fame, science, etc.


The great philosophers and religious leaders show to us with their lives and their teachings the road of and to happiness: They are, generally, the happiest persons on earth. For Socrates, for instance, knowing what is right necessarily implies doing right: “He who knows what is right, will do right, because why would anybody choose to be unhappy?” Certainly, we all want to be truly happy: “living well and doing good is similar to being happy” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics). Following Aristotle, Tomas de Aquino tells us that “every agent acts for an end,” and consequently the end – the ultimate end really – is what we need to know to be able to walk on the right direction.

I remember the expression of philosopher Seneca: “There is no favorable wind for one who does not know where he is going.” In his passionate search for full happiness, Saint Thomas approaches money, power, pleasure, honors, science… to conclude that the possession of these objects can and should contribute to our happiness, but by themselves are neither sufficient nor the main ones to provide true happiness.. 

The happiness that Jesus preaches and lives, on the other hand, is very different from the one preached by our individualistic, secular and consumeristic world. Jesus speaks to us of the Beatitudes (cf. Matthew chap. 5) as the way of happiness and to full happiness. How to be blessed, happy?  By straggling to be poor in spirit, merciful, peacemakers, meek, sufferers for the sake of justice and nonviolence, and persons who forgive all, including their enemies. For St. Augustine, the Beatitudes – the core of the Sermon of the Mount– are the answer of Jesus to the universal longing for happiness. As it has been said correctly, the Beatitudes are eight forms of happiness.


The road to happiness cannot be evil, hatred, violence, selfishness, mere success. “The (ethical) evil is always a degradation, sinking” (Jose Maria Marina). Authoritative words: “Calmness and a modest life bring more happiness than the chase of success combined with constant agitation” (Albert Einstein).

Aquinas opens his moral theology with the treatise of beatitude – or happiness - as the end of the journey that we walk by the path of virtues. For the Angelic Doctor, the ultimate end is beatitude, full happiness, or the supreme good.  Aristotle tells us that happiness is the reward of virtue. Happiness, Aquinas adds, “Consists in the practice of virtue.” The practice of virtues improves the moral vision of life – and happiness.

A good life is an ethical life: “It is criminal that the teaching of ethics be eliminated from schools”  (Jose Antonio Marina, Ética para náufragos). An ethical life is a virtuous life, that is, a life that respects the moral values.

Hence, the good life of a pilgrim –we are all pilgrims – is an ethical life, that is, a life which from virtue issues corresponding good deeds (compassion trough repeated acts of compassion). In Christian perspective, the theological virtues are infused by God while the moral virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance…) may be acquired and also infused by God with the virtues of faith, hope and love and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Virtues are connected. One virtue, however, stands out over all the others that are vivified and given extra value by it: the virtue of love. In ethical perspective, without love, everything values little. Thus, the search for happiness is a continuing search for love. Love is the greatest and most perfect human and Christian value and virtue, and it radically means to get out of ourselves, of our fat ego.

For all humans, selfishness is an obstacle on our journey of happiness to full happiness. For the believer, the center of his or her life is not he himself or she herself but God, and in God all the others. Knowingly or unknowingly, the natural longing towards total happiness, towards infinite love is God: our quest for happiness is a mysterious search for God, who placed in our hearts that natural longing for happiness. For the Bishop of Hippo, morality is a search for happiness, that is, for God, who wants us to be happy. Not only that, God wants us to share in his divine happiness: man, creature of God is called by God “as a son to intimacy with God and to share in his happiness” (Vatican II, GS 21). Hence, “There is only one happiness: to please Him [God]. Only one sorrow, to be displeasing to Him, to refuse Him something, to turn away from Him” (Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain). Indeed, "Solo Dios basta” (Saint Teresa of Ávila).

Are you happy? Am I happy? The journey of life goes forward only with steps of love: love of all neighbours, especially the poor and marginalized neighbours, love of creation, and radically and ultimately love of God - with the very love of God in our hearts: “Thou have made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee” (St. Augustine, Confessions).