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Friday, December 31, 2010

Searching For Happiness In All The Wrong Places...

St. Augustine by Philippe de Champiagne
One of my favorite quotes is by a fourth century theologian and philosopher, Augustine of Hippo, who once wrote, "Oh God, Thou has made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you."

Augustine would know this from firsthand experience since he lived a worldly life of debauchery, decadence, and self-centeredness before converting to Christianity and becoming one of the most influential and renowned  Christian writers in world history.

The thought of finding happiness, and ultimately  fulfillment, in God, as St. Augustine wrote, may sound foreign to many of us today because, we (as a society) are used to trying to seek joy outside of God, mostly through material goods and physical pleasures (although, as Augustine's own life reveals, this is not necessarily unique to modern culture).

Still, today, happiness is often confused and measured according to palpable and perceived accomplishments; be it in our career, net worth, property, or the many other possessions that indicate we have "made it.” Interestingly, even when we accomplish these societal standards for success, we have to ask ourselves, does it spell true happiness?

It always amazes me how much unhappiness, loneliness and despair there is in a time when most households generate more income, accumulate more wealth, and enjoy more leisure time than previous generations could ever imagine (Yes, we work hard today but it's nothing like working the fields, having to make and wash clothes by hand or hunting to put food on the table).

How does an otherwise sane, and probably highly intelligent, rich investor commit suicide because the stock market crashes? Or, how a professional athlete, that apparently has everything ever imaginable in life (not to mention in the life of his kids, grand kids and great grand kids), can destroy his marriage and family to seek fleeting pleasures and passions?  How about the Hollywood celebrity, who has all the fame and glory, yet continues to be arrested for drugs or alcohol?

In our search for happiness in the material and physical, we are seemingly becoming more self-destructive.

And, let me be clear, I'm not throwing stones from a glass house.  I remember a not too distant time in my life, when I thought that empty and meaningless relationships, carousing, fancy dinners at overpriced restaurants, lavish vacations, or owning a status car and multitude of possessions would make me happy. However, they never did and they were never enough (although they may appeared to have been for a short time).  I was always looking for more. What I couldn't recognize at the time was that, the "more" I was looking for, was the human longing for God.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church begins by stating, "The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for." (my emphasis)

I remember my wife often telling me that I was never happy. I never understood what she meant since I thought I was very happy. Yet, there was always a void (an emptiness) inside me that I never realized until, as St. Augustine stated, it was filled by God.

During his recent trip to London, Pope Benedict stated, “Happiness is something we all want, but one of the great tragedies in this world is that so many people never find it, because they look for it in the wrong places. The key to it is very simple – true happiness is to be found in God.”

Realizing this helped me understand what true joy and fulfillment meant and for the first time in my life, I feel my restless heart has found rest.

The ongoing human search for happiness, as explained by Christ in the Beatitudes, is the topic of the second part of Fr. Robert Barron’s documentary series, Catholicism, which will be released next year. Here’s a preview:

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