How many times have you watched a video or personally witnessed a presenter give a speech or a priest give a homily with such an exhuberant spirit only to ask yourself, “Man, who is that and where can I get a little of that magic?!” It’s true that when we cultivate a joyful spirit we not only help ourselves but have the ability to influence and lift others out of the rut they may often find themselves in.
It’s been proven time and again that one’s emotional well-being – cultivating a positive mood or simply appreciating the goodness of life – offers tremendous benefits to those within your social sphere, whether in families, in the workplace, at school or in society, in general. Being happy makes us prone to being kinder and more generous, more productive in our work and other endeavors – all qualities that will come in handy during a time of crisis. St. John of the Cross, one of the great Doctors of the Church, in speaking on man’s spiritual journey, says that we walk through life by two alternating paths: “the path of consolation and the path of desolation.” St. Augustine, another great mind of the church, agrees that we should use our moments of joy to prepare for the moments of loneliness and aridity, for as long as we live on this mortal coil we will always experience an incessant roller coaster of emotions. In other words, let our joy and happiness serve as the fuel to push us through those difficult moments. Be confident that God is in control, as the prophet Nehemiah assures us: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
It’s even written in our biological make-up that when we experience the joy of others it immediately makes us more joyful. Our brains are naturally attuned to the emotional state of others, which through a complex system of neurons, known as “mirror neurons,” we tend to feel the emotions of others inside ourselves and therefore tend to mimic their behavior. It’s the reason why when someone smiles at you, you tend smile back, or when we laugh out loud at a party the contagion of laughter quickly catches on and makes others giddy. Joy is the component that solidifies our bonds with others – especially with our spouses and children – by making us less contentious, more willing to expend ourselves in service to God and others, and approach life in a spirit of gratitude.
While it’s unclear how it works exactly, studies have shown that joy and happiness have a way of contributing to better health and longevity. For instance, when a spouse is happier it makes the other spouse feel less stressed, and can indirectly contribute to their better health. A happier person also possesses greater courage in the face of adversity while simultaneously building the counter virtue of longanimity, which has the capacity to endure suffering with patience and strength, a fruit of the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22).
Of course, we all know being happy all the time is impossible, let alone unrealistic. It’s also not helpful to put on a happy face even when we least feel like doing so. Instead, to sustain a happier existence we ought to focus on practicing some of the key virtues that contribute to our overall well-being and happiness, namely gratitude, self-awareness, awe and wonder, and compassion.
Approaching life in a spirit of gratitude puts into perspective that everything we have is a gift, and prevents us from taking anything for granted. Gratitude is the mutual understanding between God and man – not as his equal but as his children – that His will alone suffices.
A routine practice of introspection is necessary to keep us humble and grounded, never to gauge ourselves greater or lesser than we are, but as we are in God’s sight. It also helps us pump the brakes when temptations to despair or depression arise because we have a keen understanding of the things that trigger these emotions in us.
Awe and wonder
Modern man has mostly lost touch with the reality of his transcendent nature, that he is not made for earthly comfort but for the greatness of heaven. It’s no wonder Our Lord said, “anyone who wishes to enter the kingdom of heaven must become like a child.” Seek moments throughout your day to place yourself in God’s presence and savor His goodness, like a child basking in the love of his father.
From the Latin root “to suffer or endure with,” a heart that exudes empathy for one’s neighbor is the defining characteristic of a Christian. We are called to emulate Christ in all things, but most especially in his Cross, which we encounter daily in our lives and those of others.
In a world that could use a little more levity, joy and peace, let’s consider how we can make another person’s day better, more joyful, and in doing so you just might find the joy and happiness you’ve been missing all along.