Happiness, The Pursuit (why happiness AND holiness are not mutually exclusive)

So, I've been watching Joel Osteen. I even bought his book "Every Day a Friday: How To Be Happier 7 Days a Week" for my Nook. This is all very odd behavior for me. But here's what's happening to me right now:

I want more happiness in my life. And I'm willing to learn from anyone who seems to have achieved a high level of happiness in their lives. I realize Joel Osteen might not be the most, um, profound source for Happiness Research but he's just so damn popular I figured he was an easy place to start.

What I'm really interested in discovering is whether it's possible to be happy AND holy.

I used to believe it was impossible to be holy AND happy. Then again, I was a fundamentalist--which is just a nice way of saying I didn't believe in FUN. Fun was suspect. Like dancing, it probably led straight to fornication.

But I'm a bad Catholic now with a whole new view of God, happiness and the life-affirming benefits of Pinot Noir. With a side of Confession. Mainly, I now confess to believing that God wants me to be holy AND happy. That holiness and happiness are NOT mutually exclusive.

Speaking of confessions, this past Christmas was the first time in many years that I didn't have a Everything-Sucks-And-I-Want-To-Give-Up thought during the holidays. Which, at the time, seemed like a huge victory. But looking back, I'd prefer a higher standard of happiness than: "Hey, I didn't want to die this past Christmas!"

For me, the holidays are a confluence of stress, a grief anniversary and a feeling of Not-Good-Enough-itis. From about mid-November through New Year's, I sorta go into PTSD-mode where I re-live and remember all the painful events that led to the utter annihilation of my previous life and the impact it had on my family. But come January, I cheer up because, hey, that life needed to go up in flames.

Going forward, I want to build on the foundation of happiness I've discovered through the unconditional love of God and the new freedom that poured into my life after I forgave those who hurt me. I've also found that my own pain can be assuaged by caring for the pain of others. In serving and loving others, I taste a deep, abiding joy that is not dependent on happy circumstances.

I want to build on these discoveries and break through to a lifestyle where joy--not sadness--is the normative state.

I'm pursuing happiness like it's a research project. My first discovery so far is that happiness doesn't just happen. You have to work at it. And you have to read lots of books about it (guess which action-item I like better?).

Awhile ago, I read this book called "Stumbling Toward Happiness" which can basically be summarzied thusly: if you're happy, it's a totally random accident and here's all the scientific evidence to back that up. Plus? Your mind is playing tricks on you, sucka!

Can you see why I've resorted to Joel Osteen?

Just before buying Joel's book, I read another book called "Animals Make Us Human" by Temple Grandin--the famous autistic researcher. I read the book to discover how to give my dog a happy life and ended up learning so much about myself, too. One of Grandin's discoveries was that animals are happiest when they are in a state of anticipating good things. Basically, the thrill of the pursuit makes animals happy.

Which got me thinking that maybe happiness isn't a destination. Maybe happiness is the pursuit.

This reminds me of that wonderful poem by John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn. In it, Keats hints that the highest and most pure experience of love is the ever-anticipatory love, the one that you always pursue but never quite consummate:

More happy love! more happy, happy love! For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd, For ever panting, and for ever young; All breathing human passion far above, That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd, A burning forehead and a parching tongue.

This ever-anticipatory love is far above that of average human passion. Everyday human passion inevitably ends in sorrow, fever, a parching tongue. The only love I know that never disappoints is divine love. Divine love is a constant expectation of good things.

Similarly, Osteen's book is all about rearranging the furniture of your mind to expect good things and to make conscious choices to believe good things because these actions improve your outlook. Osteen's theology is, um, wimpy, but I'm trying to see the good things, here.

So, in the pursuit of happiness, I've made a few changes. Very, very spiritual changes. Very, very holy and admirable changes. For example, I've fully embraced the joy of false eyelashes. Hello super-easy-way-to-make-myself-feel-fabulous!

Another change? I'm going to bed by 8:30/9pm. I've accepted for better or worse that I am a morning person (oh, but being a night-owl is so much cooler! I've always WANTED to be a night-owl!).

But I'm a morning person. Furthermore, I'm an annoying chirpy-singing-songs-in-morning Morning Person. If you call me at 6:15am, I will probably serenade you with show tunes.

So, to increase my happiness, I've been going to bed early. Which, as it turns out, is a very difficult thing to do.

Which is when I tell myself: pursuing happiness is difficult and going to bed early will make you happier. So, I go to bed early.

Don't worry, I always take off my false eyelashes first.