By Father Joseph Breighner
I’ve always loved the saying: “We all know that money can’t buy happiness, but we’re all willing to give it a second chance.” And maybe a third and fourth and fifth!
Judging by the millions of people buying millions of lottery tickets in the big drawing recently, it would seem that many of us still trust money as the way to happiness.
Yet, in all of the research I’ve read, it never is true. Lottery winners usually go through three stages. When they first win they are ecstatically happy. One year later, however, winners are no more happy than they were before they won the lottery. And five years later, most winners turn out to be less happy than they were before they won the lottery. A friend of mine got it right when he said: “I don’t play the lottery out of fear that I might win.”
On the other hand, when we study people who have had terrible accidents or tragedies, the reverse seems to be true. In my years at St. Mary’s Seminary, back in the 1960’s, I worked for four summers at Montebello Hospital, a hospital then for the physically disabled, disabled mostly by accidents or diseases. Immediately after paralysis, there was deep depression. However, a year later, most people were about as happy as they were before the paralysis. We adapt.
Darwin, in his theory of evolution, noted that the survival of a species was not based on strength or intelligence, but on its ability to adapt. The dinosaurs didn’t adapt to changing conditions. The dinosaurs are gone. The cockroach adapted very well. They’re doing just fine even today. (Back in the days of the Cold War, when we lived in fear that someone would ‘push the button’ and we would all be annihilated by nuclear weapons, one scientist speculated that the three things that would survive a nuclear holocaust were: the cockroach, the coyote and the dandelion.
Science can speculate about physical survival. We who know we are spiritual creatures as well as physical creatures have a deeper answer. We know that nothing outside us – money, power, fame, sex, drugs, sports, etc, – can ever make us happy because all of our happiness is within us. Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said: “The Kingdom of God is within you!” What most of us call happiness is distraction from the misery of our lives. The things listed above can indeed distract. They can’t give us lasting happiness.
Try a little exercise with me. Imagine you just won the lottery! How would you feel? Let the feeling expand within you. Let that good feeling flow through your mind and body and spirit. Try this for about a minute. Doesn’t it feel wonderful? And guess what? Neither you nor I won the lottery! Yet we got the good feeling within us. That’s where the kingdom is. Happiness, peace, love, and joy are the natural state of our lives. They get covered over when we allow the negative feelings of our lives to cover over our natural state.
So our task is to let go again and again and again of every negative feeling in our lives as soon as we are aware of them, and allow ourselves to feel the joy and love and peace which is within us all the time. You see, you and I won something better than the lottery. We got the gift of faith. We get to see who we really are by seeing ourselves through the eyes of the Christ within us. We no longer have to wait for love and peace and joy and happiness. They come with God, and God is within us.
Copyright © April 12, 2012 CatholicReview.org