Psalm 84:1-7 and Happiness by Susan Griffin
Sunday October 23rd, 2022
Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche
Thank you! It feels precious and weird and wonderful to gather and hear ancient and modern poetry! Welcome again I invite you to take some deep breaths now to remind us all, that we are here in part to hear more fully whatever word God has for each of us and all of us this day…
Gracious God, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our rock, and our redeemer Amen.
Happy are those who…
“Happy are those who live in God’s house,” “Happy are those whose strength is in God”(Psalm 84) “happy are those whose transgression is forgiven…Psalm 32) “Happy are those who live pure lives…. Happy are those who keep God’s rules…” (Psalm 119)
Those are just some of the “Happy are those” phrases we get in the Hebrew Bible.
And in the Christian scriptures, in the Gospel of Matthew the way some translators bring it to us, it says, “Happy are those who are humble” and “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; the Kin-dom of heaven belongs to them!”
Happy are those who…
Many translations use happiness and blessing interchangeably. So I think that happiness is essential and underestimated and is a powerful presence in our lives. And I have talked a lot about grief and sadness and I have cried before over these months and weeks and so I thought today: the secret to happiness.
But our culture confuses us about what happiness is, about how to find it and how to keep it. So what is happiness, really? Well officially happiness is a state characterized by joy, satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment.
But what makes for a happy life?
I think it is an important question not just because as I said that we are constantly bombarded with messages that misguide us, but I think we should ask this question about happiness because as I read the information that is emerging, Americans at least, are quite unhappy.
A headline from earlier this year claimed, “American happiness hits record lows”1 And a headline from just last month read, “Americans are less happy than ever! What are we doing wrong?”
The essay went on to point out that we spend trillions of dollars on things like self-care and personal wellness seeking to be happy and taking ourselves to places focused on our happiness. Disneyland as you may know is called, The Happiest Place on Earth!!! And let me tell you, you pay a lot for that happiness.
And as you know, happiness is even found in our Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…
But as Brett Ford, one of the authors of a 2015 University of California, Berkeley study on cultural happiness wrote, “The intense motivation to pursue happiness has been very robustly linked to worse well-being…”
It’s almost like all of that striving for the thing, is leading us to exactly the wrong thing.
As I have shared before, one of the true blessings of this vocation is getting to share life with people of all kinds and getting to see couples of all combinations make it work, even in surprising ways and you’re like “How in the world do they work it out?” But they do. And part of what I have gotten to see are the patterns that hold with time and what I have observed is that happy people do in fact live in certain ways that contribute to their satisfaction with life. They focus on and see and choose to lean into what is good, having gratitude for the gifts that abound, noticing the good people and good places, having grace for those that fall short.
And also those who are unhappy also seem to find a way to highlight what is missing, unhappy people tend to see all that is wrong and often focus on how others have messed up. And because in that frame, happiness seems to be missing, because it’s outside factors, because of others and external things, it can prove impossible to find it. Because if it’s on everyone else, we’re never going to get there.
Richard Rohr wrote that “We build our lives around our programs for survival, which we falsely assume will give us happiness. The problem is, these programs will not work in the long haul. They are almost entirely dependent on outside events and other people conforming to our needs. They are inherently unstable because your happiness moment by moment is based outside of yourself. All the great religions of the world at the highest levels would say God alone–something stable, inside us, and reliable–is the source of all sustained happiness. Once you encounter a Loving God (not the toxic, judgmental, punishing version of God that many of us have grown up with), you have found both your Ground and your Goal. John of the Cross, Teresa of Ávila, and many other mystics believed the experience of absolute union between God and the soul is essential to transformation. Then happiness is an “inside job” and not dependent on outer circumstances or other peoples’ response to you.”2
“The journey to happiness involves finding the courage to go down into ourselves and take responsibility for what’s there: all of it.”
Dang, that’s so much harder than having everyone else get on our plan!
In short, happiness comes from that courage to go within. Not in the sense our happiness comes from having everything we want, but it’s an internal thing because we understand that joy, satisfaction, contentment, come from love, from connection and none of these things are found in nice stuff or fancy houses or distinguished credentials. But you already know that.
If part of what Jesus shared was that blessings and happiness will come from doing what God requires, even when we are mocked for it, then our call is clear, but not easy, because we are brought back to love again. And here it feels important to remember that I don’t mean what and who we like, I mean love, I mean that deeper force that calls us beyond our ego and preferences and the little worlds we create.
The love that Jesus and others refer to, brings back to doing justice, to loving kindness and walking humbly. Happiness comes from loving deeply, loving people and places, loving creation and communities. I believe this truly. And a big part of why so many people are unhappy is that they are without a network around them, reminding them of their worth and gifts and more, even being in community with people who annoy us is important as it helps us create capacities for the love that our faith invites and it forces us to have connections with networks beyond our curation.
Arthur Brooks in his book, From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life wrote that “There are two pillars of happiness. . . One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”
Not long ago the Surgeon General issued a warning about our loneliness, about our unhappiness. And this is true for people in more than one age group, but especially seniors and young adults. It turns out that something like 53% of people under 30 say that no one knows them well… That breaks my heart.
I believe the answer for the needed happiness is love, community, connecting, getting off of screens and taking risks for love, and I don’t just mean romantic love, although that is essential. I hope that more people understand how algorithms can’t always show you za za zoom on a screen. And here’s the other thing, we don’t always know what we need. We know what we want, but that’s really different than what we need. I believe the answer to happiness is taking risks for love, for friends, for love of creation, for love of community.
As we heard from the poet Susan Griffin, “Sharp perception softens our existence in the world.” Maybe that is another way to speak of love as the path to happiness? When we look closer, when we zoom in, we see the beauty, we see the goodness, we see what matters.
I don’t ever remember someone telling me as they were dying that they wish they had invested more time in having nice things or they wish they had held more grudges, but I do remember people sharing regrets of withholding kindnesses and withholding words of love that should have been expressed. Even with time, there is so much that remains a mystery, but I believe with some amount of certainty that one of the meanings of life is happiness, happiness that comes from all manners of love.
I believe and have seen that it is happy are those who love! Those who love beyond their own faults and the faults of others, happy are those who focus on and see and choose to lean into what is good, happy are those who have gratitude for the gifts that abound and the kind people that are all around, happy are those who have grace and extend and receive forgiveness, happy are those who love deeply…
May we never forget this. It can’t be bought or brought from success or status or stuff. Happy are those who love, who risk for love and grow for love, who cultivate it and keep it, who don’t push love away… May it be so. Amen.
©Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche