The Pursuit of Happiness

In America, we lift up a notion that our founding fathers felt was necessary to place in our Constitution, namely that every citizen of the U.S. is entitled to the freedom of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

And when I say we lift it up, I mean that some of us lift it up, especially when we feel that we are being impeded in any of those three in any way, particularly the last one. 

Here's the rub, though: The "pursuit of happiness" has become a national pastime in the U.S.  For far too many of us, it's not the pursuit of happiness but happiness itself that is seen as an unalienable right.  

This presents a problem when we find how elusive true happiness can be, and even the pursuit of happiness is not all it's cracked up to be. 

Interestingly, according to the Global Happiness Index, the U.S. has risen from 18th to 15th since the end of 2020.  You can make of that what you will.  

During this season of Advent, we are challenged to find ways to stay ready and prepared for the advent of a new world, even as we look around and realize that things aren't at all what they should be. 

The temptation is to do everything we can to numb ourselves to the reality of the world around us and alleviate any unwelcome nudges by the Spirit to do something about it.  

It's much easier to chase after happiness than to pause, discover gratitude, connect with others, find places to serve and give, and fully embrace the radical nature of God's love for a world God became one of us to rescue.  

Fr. Richard Rohr has written extensively about the season of Advent and how we seek happiness in all kinds of ways during this time of year, lowering our expectations and letting our pursuits take us everywhere but in the Way of Christ.  

He had this to say in particular about the pursuit of happiness: 

You do not catch a butterfly by chasing it: You sit still, and it alights on your shoulder. Then it chooses you.  That is true happiness. 

As I read that line, I was drawn back to my childhood and how I would chase butterflies with my trusty butterfly net.  It worked pretty well if I could sneak up close to the butterflies, but they would often end up hurt or dead from my efforts.  

Try as I might, I couldn't gently catch them with a net while running or stalking.  And frequently, they would elude me before I had the chance. 

That's a good metaphor for how most of us pursue happiness. We try so hard to chase it down and capture it, but when we unfold our nets, we discover that whatever we've caught doesn't look or act like we hoped. 

Which is why Fr. Richard's wisdom is so meaningful and appropriate for us now. 

Happiness comes when I've spent more time focused on being the best version of myself and not trying to chase down what I believe to be happiness, bending it to my will and way. 

And I am still learning this and trying to internalize it even as my own oft-addled brain and foolish heart tell me otherwise. 

May we find the strength that comes through patience and peace to sit still when every basic instinct tells us to run around with our nets.  May we learn what it means to let happiness choose us, alight on us, and fill us with the very Spirit of God.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all now and forever. Amen.  


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