The other day my co-worker, Robin, with whom I carpool, and I had a deep and philosophical conversation… about the weather.
“This is such a great time of year,” I enthused, about September in Georgia. “Cool in the mornings, and yet still plenty of warmth in the afternoons.” She nodded, as I went on, “You get a chance to both cool down and thaw out.”
“I agree, Carl, I love this time of year.” She thought for a moment, and then added, “but I love every time of the year.” We both laughed.
Robin jokes about having an extra “happy gene.” She is, indeed, a person who seems to be almost always looking on the bright side, accepting life’s punches with humor and perspective, and willing to give people — and situations — the benefit of the doubt. I really admire her for this, and on my good days I think I’m almost as positive.
I believe there really is a link between being positive, being happy, and choosing to love. Somebody once told me that Van Gogh said that he felt the purpose of life was to love many things. I’m probably getting the words wrong and it may have been someone other than Van Gogh who said whatever it was, but that doesn’t matter now. The basic idea: that there is meaning and purpose in loving, lavishly and freely and universally, is what matters to me. I think it’s a great idea for orienting life.
Robin loves all the seasons of the year, and that love translates into a personality suffused with optimism and happiness. As contemplatives, we are called to baste our souls in the fruit-juice of love, joy, peace, and all those other wonderful qualities you can find in Galatians 5. “Happiness” may not be explicitly listed, but I think it’s the fruit of the fruit. When we love many things, enjoy many things, and make peace with many things, we are invited into the most intimate chambers of happiness itself. This isn’t some sort of happiness-by-denial (for that’s not true happiness anyway); but rather, it is the happiness that honestly and openly encounters all the pain and suffering that the world can toss our way, and yet refuses to be defeated by such trials. Because, at the end of the day, love and hope and joy and peace are functions of the will, not accidents of our circumstances. We choose to love, and we can choose to love many things (and by “things” here, of course I mean people first, then principles or values, and only then material objects).
After laughing about the weather, Robin and I talked about happiness and the mystery of why so many people seem to carry such weight around in their lives. Acknowledging that we both have had our times of sadness or sorrow or bitterness, we also recognized that, in the end, happiness is a choice. I told her what John Ruysbroeck said about holiness: “You are as holy as you want to be.” I think the same thing holds true for happiness.
In fact, I suspect there is a quite a correlation between holiness and happiness, that many people (including many supposedly holy people) might not see. Unless or until they choose to.