What Makes You Happy?


A teen shares her realization that if our happiness is tied to stuff that's only temporary, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.

It's easy to be happy when everything's going right—you ace your geometry test, your crush notices your new hair cut, your parents tell you it's time to go car shopping. But if your happiness is tied to stuff that's only temporary, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. So what's the alternative?

Find your happiness in the only thing that will last. That's what a twelfth-century monk named Bernard said. In one of his writings, On Consideration, he encouraged readers to find joy in Christ alone rather than things like the opinions of others and material possessions. You have begun to see how easily you are unsettled when others irritate you, and how gross offenses nearly drive you off track. I want to help you understand why this is so.

It is our attachment to the things of this world that is the problem. We feel such a drawing to people and possessions, hoping they will give us the security and love we need. When they fail to fill our soul's deepest needs we are confused. We feel such affection for these people, these things—but they do not love us back as much as we need to be loved. Our own body betrays us, because in the presence of these objects of desire we feel some measure of comfort. But never enough. Thus we are attached as if by ropes to things that pull our souls down into the miry clay of earth.

Those who are stuck in this rut may come away for a time of spiritual reflection. They get a glimpse of the rest and peace that can be theirs when they relinquish their worries and attachments to God. But they fail to recognize the Source of their spirit's life. They fail to recognize that all of life flows from our full embrace of [Christ] alone. They go back to their attachments to things that can never give them life within.

So they go from dryness to fleeting times of so-called spiritual renewal, when they briefly consider the things of God. I do not denigrate such times, however, for at least they gain a glimpse, so that their soul may continue to cry out within them, "I love the house where you live, O Lord, the place where your glory dwells" (Psalm 26:8). Let the full truth of what I have shown you sink in so that in due time you will be able to continue on your journey in Christ. Whole in heart. More free in spirit than before.

What you must do, if you want to progress in spirit, is this: Make it your practice to become more aware of all the people and things to which your soul has become wrongly attached. I do not mean that you should feel no affection; that is unnatural. I mean that you should not depend on any created thing for your final happiness and security. For people and things will always fail us. And when we love and trust in them more than we love and trust in God, then our affections are disordered.

Progress comes as we slowly regather the soul together, recalling it from all the places where it has fallen captive. How are you a captive? Are you afraid of losing things that have no real power to help you—that is, temporary losses? Do you cling to people and things which are not worthy of that kind of full dependence—calling this love, though it is really only immature need? Do you fret over practically nothing? Are you always looking for some possession, or a person, or an achievement, to charge your soul with joy? We must recollect our soul from such entrapments. Only then can our soul freely ascend to God.

As we release our grip from things of this earth—things that are as fleeting as we are—then do our souls soar. For when we release our soul to love and trust in God alone, we have strength to walk to the high place because we are given the power of His own Spirit.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)

When he was in his early 20s, Bernard entered a monastery near his home in Dijon, France. There he found like-minded men, dedicated to living a simple life of work, study, worship and prayer. A few years later, he was sent to a newly-founded monastery in Clairvaux. He would call the place "home" until his death.

Throughout his life, Bernard struggled to find a balance between being in the world but not of it. His lifestyle, along with his writing, challenged many (including spiritual and political leaders of his day) to live lives of pure devotion to Christ. Men and women who were tired of expensive, Cinderella-type affairs, and the emptiness of their wealthy lifestyles, found meaning in Bernard's teaching. He told them Christ could bring them fulfillment.

To those fearing death, Bernard offered hope. At the time many church leaders were teaching that when Christians die, they must first go to purgatory—a place where they would make up for sins they committed on Earth. Only after completing this purification process could they enter heaven. Bernard rejected this idea, explaining that Christ had already paid for the sins of those who put their faith in him. His words were like water to the thirsty.

Bernard was a man who sought the truth and shared what he found. His findings helped many grow in intimate fellowship with Christ. And years later, they continue to do the same.

Written by Amber Penney

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