Happiness Doesn’t Come From Comparing Sorrow to Joy
As a high school Theology teacher, I’m often hit with some fairly crazy questions (“Since our eyeballs will be buried with our bodies on Earth, will we be blind in Heaven?”) and even more assumptions about faith and human nature. One of the most common misconceptions – and I mean every year from a huge portion of each class – usually goes something like this:
- Without sin, there would be no suffering.
- A person can’t be happy without being able to compare joy to suffering.
- Therefore, sin is good and necessary for happiness.
It took me about three years to stop being shocked when I hear this statement, but I remain baffled as to its origin and amazed at how widespread the idea has become; and it is certainly not limited to high school students.
So what of it? Surely, sin cannot be good (let’s leave O felix culpa out of this), but what about the necessity of seeing the bad in order to experience the good? When you are in the midst of happiness, where are your sorrows? My experience is that they tend to be completely out of mind; when I’m in the midst of playing with my kids, I’m not thinking about the time Biff punched me in the face. I would venture to say that being aware of sorrows detracts from, rather than enhances, happy moments. Don’t the most enjoyable times in our lives occur apart from the perception of misery?
Perhaps it is only the establishment of sorrow in our souls that enables us to feel happiness; that the sorrow doesn’t actually have to be in the presence of mind. This would imply that Adam and Eve were incapable of happiness before the fall, which is not an easy case to make. The Garden of Eden was a paradise in which man lived in friendship with Godand in harmony with himself, others and nature.
The question comes down to where happiness comes from. Ultimately, happiness comes from God, not man or any joy or suffering that man can bring about on his own. From the Catechism:
1718 The Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness. This desire is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it.
45 Man is made to live in communion with God in whom he finds happiness: When I am completely united to you, there will be no more sorrow or trials; entirely full of you, my life will be complete (St. Augustine, Conf.).
1057 Hell’s principal punishment consists of eternal separation from God in whom alone man can have the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
I can certainly grow in my appreciation of blessings in my life; the school year after teaching a difficult class of students is like going into vacation everyday. Is that difficult year necessary for my happiness or enjoyment of the subsequent year? I’d say not, but even aside from suffering, God being the source of happiness means that a greater understanding and involvement of Him will more effectively grow our enjoyment of any scenario or situation.