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Happiness Christ-Centered Shaded

Did you know that your happiness is dependent on your ability to focus on others?

Recently, thanks to Craig Pohl, Director of New Evangelization for the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan, we learned about Fr. Robert Spitzer’s Four Levels of Happiness. The essence of each level is based on philosophy dating back to Aristotle, who said that happiness is the one thing we desire in and of itself. The level of happiness that is dominant in our lives will dictate our actions and choices. Furthermore, whichever level of happiness dominates our lives will determine the depth and endurance of our happiness.

The characteristics of each of the Four Levels of Happiness are shown below.[1]

Happiness Chart Clip

As we move down the chart, we move from self-centeredness to other-centeredness. When we operate at the first two levels, happiness is fleeting so in an attempt to achieve a lasting happiness, we become even more self-centered. It is a downward spiral in self-destruction.

When we are other-focused, happiness is enduring. Helping others is good for us, many times those who help others say they receive far more than they give. For more than 50 years, the great theologians and philosophers of the Church have stressed this concept. Christ is our model of self-giving love in our marriages and relationships.

Man…cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself. (Gaudium et Spes, 24)

These words were proclaimed by Pope Paul VI in the Vatican II encyclical Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on The Church in The Modern World). They became the foundation of the writings of Pope St. John Paul II on marriage and family.

Pope John Paul II gave a series of 129 Wednesday audiences between September 5, 1979 and November 28, 1984. These talks have been published in Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (TOB). Dealing with the dignity of the person in human sexuality, he taught that a person actualizes their dignity through giving oneself to another.

The human body, with its sex-its masculinity and femininity-seen in the very mystery of creation, is not only a source of fruitfulness and of procreation, as in the whole of natural order, but contains “from the beginning” the “spousal” attribute, that is, the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift -through this gift-fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence. (TOB, 15:1)

The meaning of man’s being and existence is to make a radical gift of self for another. This is most dramatically demonstrated in the “free, total, faithful and fruitful” love of God, imaged in the love of husband and wife in the sacrament of marriage (see Humanae Vitae, 9).

Given the fallen nature of humanity, how do you grow in your ability to turn selfish desires into the total gift of self? This requires spiritual maturity. In Christian Spirituality, many of the saints described three stages in the spiritual journey to God: The Purgative, Illuminative and Unitive Ways. It is a journey that every person must take from sinfulness to transforming unity with God. It is a journey from self-centeredness to God-centeredness. This journey is necessary if we are to live out St. John Paul II’s call to radical self-sacrifice and gift of self for the good of another. By growing closer to God through daily prayer and Scripture reading, we become more like the author and creator of life. In doing so, we become more Christ-like in thought, word and deed. This is where we will find our true happiness in life.

Grow in relationship to Christ and grow in radical self-giving love for your spouse! This is your path to the Fourth Level of Happiness: The Ultimate Good. When you put Christ at the center of your marriage and family, your focus will change from an inward to an outward disposition. You will look for ways to be a blessing to others. This is what we are made for, to image the love of Christ to a world desperately searching for lasting happiness.

The happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth, hidden in the Eucharist. Only he gives the fullness of life to humanity![2] Pope Benedict XVI

[1] Spitzer Center for Visionary Leadership, The Four Levels of Happiness, internet: http://spitzercenter.org/what-we-do/educate/four-levels-of-happiness/, (accessed July 19, 2018).

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Apostolic Journey to Cologne

on the Occasion of the XX World Youth Day, 18 August 2005, internet: http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2005/august/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20050818_youth-celebration.html, (accessed July 20, 2018).