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Spiritual Health Today

by Dennis Darilek, MDiv., M.A.

How many happy people do you know?  By that, I mean people who believe that life is good and help you to believe the same.  Their presence is invigorating!  Their arrival brightens a room!  You enjoy being around them – their happiness is in their faces, voices, and in their attitude towards you.  How many people do you know like that?  I dare say it will be difficult for you to come up with a very long list.

Truly happy people are not the norm.  That is the reason that we value them so highly.  They have a quality that we both admire and envy.  Who are these people?  What is it that makes them so special?

I am going to take a stab at describing the “happy” people.  It is always dangerous to generalize, but my observation of these people is that they have certain qualities in common.  I hope to outline a few of these characteristics in this and in the following editions.

For one thing, happy people are humble.  They do not walk around with their noses in the air, trying to impress others with their importance.  It is impossible for an arrogant person to truly be happy.  I cannot remember ever having met one.  Arrogance and happiness are not compatible.  The arrogant person is faking it.  He or she is pretending to be something that he or she is not.  This is, in the final analysis, a miserable way to live.  It happens in the academic world when a teacher or student decides he knows it all and no longer needs to learn.  It happens in the business world when an industry doesn’t keep up with the changes.  It happens in the religious realm when institutions or individuals think they have arrived and no longer need to grow.

It is a happy day for any of us when we decide to “get real.”  You and I are not much different from anyone else.  It is naïve for us to pretend that we are.  We all came into this world the same way.  We shall all leave through the same exit.  In the meantime we are all members of the same human family.  We are weak.  We are vulnerable.  We are imperfect.  We don’t have our “act together.”  Happy people accept the truth about themselves.  They need help.  They know it and are not ashamed to admit it.

Another thing we can say about happy people in general is that they are tenderhearted.  It is not unusual to see them grieve.  They weep more readily and more frequently than most of us.  To grieve means that I can “feel” my feelings, feel loss, disappointment, hurt, and give expression to them, to know the experience of being broken-hearted.  Mourning is a healing of the heart.  Sorrow is a process of mending where one can become whole again.  Joy and sorrow enter our hearts through the same door.  If we close out one, we close out the other.  So happy people, strange to say, feel a lot of grief.  They are deeply moved, not only by their own pain, but also by the pain of others.

A third thing we can say about this group is that they are never fully satisfied.  There is a kind of restlessness at the very center of their souls.  But their discontentment is of a different sort.  Whereas many of us are dissatisfied with our circumstances, happy people are dissatisfied with themselves.  They recognize a potential in their lives that has not yet been met.  They have a deep desire to turn their possibilities into realities.

One of the network news programs recently told the story about a man who is seventy-two.  Nothing is unusual about that.  Many are that age and older.  What made this story news was that he had just graduated from law school.  At the age when most of us are ready to quit, he is still reaching for his potential.  Others do the same thing in less unusual ways.  They are forever longing to become kinder, wiser, and more useful to their fellow human beings.  This is the mark of happy people.  They are reformers in the best sense of the work