To love many things…

The Starry Night

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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.

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Nancy Ford

    I received this from a friend who is on your automatic mailing list.

    I agree with all you state here but missed the word gratitude. Yes, we choose our attitudes which color how we see events, but gratitude spoken seems to reinforce and welocome in the many blessings that a positive outlook brings. Just the fact of having snatched periods of uncluttered time in which to be contemplative is a blessing in and of itself. It’s a good life after all and as my friends say, All is Well.

    • Carl McColman

      Yes, Nancy, gratitude is so essential, thanks for the reminder! As Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘Thank You,’ it will be enough.”

  • Br. Jay

    I think there is something to be said about choosing to be happy. In my own life, sitting in silent contemplation, enough of the garbage was cleared away where I could see that I had a choice. Thanks for this terriffic post.

  • trev

    I’m also an embracer of gratitude. I think it is at the heart of love, that which, IMO, opens the doors to all the Universe.

    Unfortunately, I am not an optimist by nature. I’m a worrier, and worry lends itself to all sorts of fears–both rational and irrational. And fear, I think, is at the core of all ills.

    About a month ago, I woke up early in the morning filled–as was my wont–with angst about nothing in particular, and everything in general. As I considered whether I could actually face the day, suddenly a realization flowed through me. I thought to myself, “It’s just as easy to be happy as it is to be unhappy.”

    I don’t know where this came from. But I seized upon it, and it has stayed with me so far.

    This newfound outlook has not changed a single outward circumstance in my life. But it has changed how I respond to the world, and–most interesting of all–the way others around me do, as well.

    I think I like this. :)

  • Carl McColman

    Trev, it sounds like your spiritual practice is bearing some sweet fruit. Good for you!

  • trev

    Thanks. :)