Catholics tend to be afraid of happiness. We tend to think that somehow happiness is the enemy of holiness and doing God’s will. The idea conveyed is that if you are happy and satisfied in life, then perhaps you are on the wrong path. Another possibility is that although happiness is good, it is somehow disconnected from devotion and religiosity, as if to put our spiritual life in a separate compartment. Theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas, in contrast, put happiness at the center of the moral life.
Of course, we all know famous examples of people who twist the question of happiness to promote all kinds of immoral behaviour. Such folks will often say that what they do and why they do it are in response to the quest of happiness. However, if we observe such people over time and see how their lives unfold, we often find a lack of inner peace. Then there are some who say that prosperity is a sign of God’s blessings. Although this is partially true, it falls short because it fails to see the wisdom of the Beatitudes, namely that those who are persecuted and suffer are blessed. Finally, there are also some people who seem to live immoral lives and yet never pay the consequences. Ultimately such things are a mystery that even the inspired authors of Sacred Scripture seem to struggle with.
This does not, however, mean that we should give up on happiness. Quite the contrary. Happiness is the fundamental question of human existence, and the answer offered by Jesus Christ is in my opinion the best one. I am going to put this answer in my own words a bit, but I would argue that it is consistent with Catholic teaching. I would argue that true happiness is found in receiving the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. Sin and the attachments it causes ultimately prevent us from resting in this love, and a good part of our spiritual life is about allowing God to undo the disorder sin has caused in our lives.
As the Father accomplishes this within us through the working of the Holy Spirit, we begin to experience the fruits described by St. Paul in Galatians. This does not mean that we do not suffer or that we have no crosses. Instead, what we discover is that the Father gives us the grace we need to experience His love in the midst of our suffering. Thus He does not take away our suffering, but transforms it through the power of His son’s cross and resurrection.
So what we must come to recognize is that happiness is tied to the cross. Not simply in the sense of suffering, but in the sense of the victory of the Father’s unconditional love. Let us participate in this victory today.