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Faithful Living: How to deal with happiness

By Joan Bay Klope

Perhaps if one really knew when one was happy, one would know the things that were necessary for one’s life.

— Joanna Field

How are you today? How would you rate your level of happiness on a 1 to 10 scale (1 being lower than low, 10 being top of the world)? I’m frequently uncomfortable talking about the state of happiness because I believe we overrate it. Ask elderly friends about their lives and they will talk about living honorably, providing for their families, serving their country, capably managing the circumstances of their lives with strength and dignity.

Today, most people expect to experience a state of utter happiness too often and feel grim, frustrated or cheated when they don’t. Or believe that to be happy, we must spend to get it. Or hope that something we bring into our lives will create a sense of happiness and keep us in that state. Or think that difficulties should resolve with quick fixes so we can return to that deserved state of happy.

It is the story of Joanna Field that caught my eye this week, prompting me to ask myself some very pointed questions regarding this whole happiness thing. It’s an interesting topic because I distinctly recall thinking as a young person that life was filled with hill and valley experiences. I’d feel happy one day because my hair looked good and I got a B-plus on a really difficult algebra test. I’d look upon entire days as sad if my parents didn’t let me go somewhere because I had not done the chores I promised I’d do! Long ago, I realized that rarely are we completely happy or sad. A day in the life of me and you is usually filled with coexisting experiences. Some add to our storehouse of happiness. Challenges drain it a bit. Seems the key is to learn how to keep our equilibrium and be able to identify simple things that we can use daily to experience some moments of happiness.

It is the approach to life made by the past generation, the generation of my grandparents, which prompted me to take a look at the life and thoughts of Joanna Field, author and psychoanalyst. My own grandmother lived at the same time as Ms. Field, and during her own 97 years faced both happiness and major, sustained challenges. How did these women manage it all? There are clues left in the photos I have of my grandmother as well as diary entries I possess. She was a woman of great faith first and foremost. She was also a very simple lady and used uncomplicated daily events to help her experience happiness, even during times when life was downright exhaustive. It is the writing left by Joanna Field that brings clarity and additional explanation regarding my own grandmother.

Ms. Field was born in London and known to her family and fellow psychoanalysts as Marion Blackett. But outside her professional circle, she used the pen name Joanna Field and introduced to the world a form of writing called “introspective journaling.”

In 1926, some time after graduating from the University of London, Field published excerpts from a diary she began at age 20. In the diary she recorded what happened each day and how happy those experiences made her feel. Looking back on the material, she carefully analyzed her own responses and wrote a book called, “A Life of One’s Own.” In it she identifies specific activities in her life that aided her goal to be happy, creative, and to experience life deeply. Through careful introspection she was able to enjoy life more by learning how to be more aware of those moments when she was choosing to be removed, disengaged, or distracted from those things she understood had the power to contribute richness and fullness to her life.

From her writings come some wonderful concepts:

“Sometimes I find that in my happy moments I could not believe that I had ever been miserable.”

“I began to have an idea of my life, not as the slow shaping of achievement to fit my preconceived purposes, but as the gradual discovery and growth of a purpose which I did not know.”

Enticing, don’t you think? Are there times when you’re filled to the brim with such happiness that you feel refreshed and better able to face the tough situations when you must face them once again? Have you considered the idea that your preconceived notions about how your life should be, and what constitutes happiness, might be worth burying in 2008? Challenge yourself with these questions and next week, we will journey on with these and other notions about happiness.

You can bet we will steer our way to God.

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