Happiness is the other kind of love
I think it is safe to say that we all desire to be happy, but what is the path to happiness? The world around us sells a number of things that it claims will bring this state: wealth, pleasure, power, prestige, love of others, fame, 1,000 likes, lots of friends, and on and on. Each of these things are elements of life, but none bring true and lasting happiness.
So, what does?
I’ve been reading a book by Peter Kreeft called The God Who Loves You. In it he makes a startling claim:
“The way to happiness is self-forgetful love and the way to unhappiness is self-regard, self-worry, and the search for personal happiness. Our happiness comes to us only when we do not seek for it. It comes to us when we seek others’ happiness instead.”
I am willing to bet that few people reading this would have ever come to this conclusion for the secret to happiness. What, after all, is self-forgetful love? When we look at the full quote, we get some clues. We are not called to forget ourselves, rather to love. Others, not ourselves, should be our focus. Thus, we don’t so much “forget” ourselves; we instead choose to take the spotlight off ourselves and shine it on those around us.
This is a radical concept in the “me-first” and “pull myself up by my own bootstraps” world in which we live. Society would like us to believe that we only get what we can grab ourselves and that we are the makers of our own happiness. Dr. Kreeft agrees with this, to a point. We make our own happiness by choosing to seek the happiness of others.
We see this concept most perfectly played out in the Pascal Mystery in which we have just participated through the Triduum and Easter Sunday. The passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus summed up in the famous verse from John: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son” (John 3:16) exemplifies self-forgetful love.
God embodies other-focused love when He sends His Son to suffer and die so we could be truly and eternally happy. Jesus, too, made a concrete choice in the Garden of Gethsemane when He willingly submitted to the cross.
Self-forgetful love is an act of the will, to give of ourselves for the sake of others. It does not mean that we forsake ourselves to the point of personal harm. It also doesn’t mean that others are intrinsically more important than we are. Lastly, it doesn’t mean that we are not supposed to take care of ourselves. It simply means that we are not meant to live by ourselves and for ourselves.
We are created in the image of a God who is Trinity, a community of persons. The relationship between the three Persons of the Trinity is often described this way: The Father gives Himself in a total gift of self to the Son, and the Son gives Himself to the Father in a total gift of self, and the Holy Spirit is found in this eternal exchange of mutual self-gift.
Thus, we are most fully ourselves when we give of ourselves to others, for when we do this, we model the love of the Trinity. The more we can embrace this self-giving love, this other-focused love, this self-forgetful love, the more we will find happiness.
The Good Friday of self-giving love is the doorway to Easter Sunday happiness. This is the blueprint for our happiness that Peter Kreeft outlines. When we forget ourselves, we do not lose ourselves; quite the opposite, we find our true selves. For, we were made for love and love has as its object the other, not the self.