Obviously, the “positive” emotions are more enjoyable and easier to life with, but it’s perfectly normal to be occasionally engulfed by waves of grief or sadness, and stymied by feelings of despair, doubt or disappointment. All those emotions have something to teach us about ourselves and, without them, we’d never know what happiness is.
But it all depends on what we mean by “happiness”, so let’s start at the beginning. The Greek philosopher Aristotle taught that the ideal life was the life of eudaimonia – a word usually translated as “happiness”. But Aristotle was not talking about a life of sensory pleasure; nor was he endorsing a life detached from reality by the delusion that things are (or should be) better than they actually are.
His idea of happiness comes much closer to our word “wholeness” than it does to the often self-indulgent, pleasure-based feeling we call “happiness”. For Aristotle, eudaimonia was about living in accordance with reason; fulfilling our sense of purpose; doing our civic duty; living virtuously; being fully engaged with the world and, especially, experiencing the richness of human love and friendship.
– Hugh Mackay, ‘Why we sometimes need to be sad’
I came across this in my reading today and found it a fantastic explanation of what Christian joy is.
For a long time I had been struggling to articulate what “Christian joy” means. I hear the term used all the time but didn’t really know how to speak about how Christian joy compared with the “joy/happiness” that people can experience without Christ. So I went and googled it in search for some way to articulate the difference. I didn’t manage to find an answer so I decided to leave it up to the Lord to reveal it to me if it is His will.
When I read this article, I realised that Aristotle’s explanation of “happiness” could be used to describe “Christian joy”
So here’s how I would articulate what “Christian joy” means to me:
Firstly, let’s talk about what Christian joy is not…
Christian joy is not a life of sensory pleasure, nor a life detached from reality by the delusion that things are (or should be) better than they actually are.
Christian joy is not the self-indulgent, pleasure-based feeling society nowadays call “happiness”.
Now, let’s talk about what Christian joy is…
Christian joy is living in accordance with reason. To me, living the life Christ calls us to live as Christians is very logical exercise. It’s a series of if this is true/not true… then naturally/logically I would respond in this way… For example, if Jesus is who He says He is, if He is indeed God, then it is only logical that I need to center my life around Him. On the other hand, if Jesus is not who He says He is, if He is not God, then He’s not a nice man, He’s a dangerous fanatic, and therefore I would do well to avoid centering my life around Him.
Christian joy is living in a way that fulfills our sense of purpose. As Catholics, we believe that our hearts are designed for union with God. This is the purpose of our existence that is inscribed into us; to love God and to be loved by God. St. Augustine said, “You have made us for Yourself, oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You” And so, when we live in a way that we were designed to live, we experience a pervading joy and peace that the world cannot give. St. Catherine of Siena said, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” In other words, to be fully alive is to be who we are meant to be.
Christian joy is living virtuously. The Catholic Church teaches us that there are 7 deadly sins and the antidote to these are the 7 lively virtues. The 7 deadly sins are exactly what they are, they are deadly; they prevent us from being fully alive and thereby prevent us from participating in the fullness of Christian joy. The 7 lively virtues on the other hand are antidotes to the 7 deadly sins; they set us free to experience a deep joy and peace beyond our wildest dreams.
Christian joy is being fully engaged with the world. As Catholics, we believe that to be fully engaged with the world, we have to understand objective truth. Only when you understand something can you engage it as it is. Objective truth is a big topic and of course the Church’s teaching on what the truth of things is very extensive. What helps me to understand the world is the fact that our hearts are designed to love God and to be loved by Him. Therefore, everything we do is ordered to satisfy this desire whether we recognise it or not. If we repress the desire for God, it doesn’t go away, rather, it comes up in a distorted way. If we don’t turn to God to satisfy this desire that is hardwired into us, we try to substitute God with wealth, pleasure, honor and/or power. C.S. Lewis in his work ‘Mere Christianity’ said, “Human history… is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
Christian joy is experiencing the richness of love and friendship with God. Ultimately, Christian joy comes down to one thing, being who we are made to be; in communion with the Holy Trinity. We are designed by God from the beginning to participate in the Divine love and friendship of the Holy Trinity. When we are able to do this fully, we experience the fullness of Christian joy; this happens in Heaven. However, the good news is, we can still experience an extent of Christian joy right here and right now on earth to the extent by which we participate in the love of God (that is to the extent by which we allow God to love us and love God in return).
So in a nutshell, Christian joy is living in accordance with reason, in a way that fulfills our sense of purpose, living virtuously, being fully engaged with the world and experiencing the richness of love and friendship with God.