"You've spoiled my good mood," the young woman said. "Every time I'm happy you ruin it. Why do you always have to tell me about things that are unpleasant when I'm feeling good?"
Does that question sound familiar to you? Can you genuinely destroy someone's happiness by bringing up what's real?
The conversation was between Alice and her mother Penelope. Penelope had reminded Alice about major events her children were involved in. Alice had recently returned home from work and wanted to relax, daydream and get away from it all. The problem was that Alice always wanted to avoid reality, even normal everyday happenings. She seemed to ignore what went on around her and dwelled in her own world. Is anybody allowed that luxury?
What Alice had interpreted as destroying her happiness was simply being asked to notice what went on in the lives of her children. Penelope wondered, "How can facing usual circumstances devastate your actual happiness? Happiness resides within. It is loving other people, seeing good in your surroundings, and looking for the beautiful in the world. Always remain positive. Happiness is facing what you must rather than running away. When you avoid issues you only face them another time. One picks up his feet and does what he has to do to make a situation better. Then you feel a sense of control rather than like a victim."
I talked with a gentleman, John, recently. His wife, Jose, had just entered an extended care facility and he visited her regularly. I asked John how Jose was doing because she was always with him. "Oh," he said, "She's at the nursing home now. She has Alzheimer's."
I was shocked because I had seen her a while back and Jose's mind seemed clear. Neither was she advanced in age. John, however, seemed cheerful and goal oriented.
"I go to see her every day," he said. "I always take some goodies and we have a tea party."
I asked him if Jose knew who he was. John answered, "I'm not sure, but she's always glad to see me. She knows I'm someone she can trust."
I asked John if that made him sad seeing her in her present condition. His answer was an inspiration to anyone.
"It makes me sad when I remember the good times we used to have, but I have to go on. I need to try to be happy, so I stay busy doing volunteer work."
He told me what his activities were and indeed they were worthy ones. He kept occupied and socialized when he could. He realized that although her condition was ongoing and their relationship would never be the same he had to care for himself before he could care for her -- before he could continue to contribute to the world. Giving back gave him reason to go on and live the best he could.
John is a spiritual man, and he looked on the bright side of her illness.
"I would rather see her like this than in pain," John said, "because she seems happy all the time since she doesn't realize what's going on."
I felt nothing but admiration and awe for him. If anyone had a reason to be unhappy and complain, John did.
Jesus presented his formula for happiness. It wasn't a hothouse, perfumed version that guaranteed pleasure and perfection. Rather it was the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes offer an all weather account of how to find happiness. Matthew 5 says such words as "Blessed [Happy] are the pure in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" and "Rejoice and exult, for your reward is great in heaven.
Choose to be joyful while living with the imperfections you encounter. Do what's right, love without boundaries, abandon self-pity, and continue setting goals. Then happiness, like a butterfly, will mysteriously alight on your shoulder.
Ellen Shuck holds degrees in psychology, religious education and spiritual direction and provides spiritual direction to people at her office.