Ministers on Happiness and Giving Up
I blame this twisted line of thoughts about happiness and giving up on the ministers at my church.
Last Sunday, Fat Sunday to many of us here, one of my ministers delivered a homily on happiness, the happiness parade, as he titled it. Then, on Fat Monday, the associate minister circulated a question on social media: “What are you giving up (or taking on) this Lent?”
Somehow, I pinched these two messages together and began to ask myself:
What if for these “giving up” occasions we give up something that seems elusive yet desirable, something we define as important and good?
What if I give up happiness for forty days?
What if I give up love?
During Lent, many give up naughty or indulgent habits.
- I’m giving up chocolate.
- I’m giving up alcohol.
- I’m giving up social media.
- I’m giving up cigarettes.
The fasting is not always about something consumed. Sometimes it’s giving up bad behaviors: gossip, complaining, worry. But I’m stuck here: what if I give up something good? Something more abstract?
Giving Up Good Things
And so I continue to mush the happiness homily and Lenten question together. Initially this line of thought seemed silly. But turning it over and trying to imagine what giving up happiness would look like, how I could achieve it, how it would make me feel, I realized that it would not be a trivial endeavor. This fashion of giving up would be damn hard.
I don’t think of myself as exuberantly happy or brimming over with love (my happiness and love are muddled with a big dose of grumpy), but as I imagined pushing something good away for forty day (Happiness? No, not having any of that! Not for forty days.), two words surfaced to the top of my muddled musings:
The former puts me among the more fortunate. I would fail at pushing happiness away.
I consider the latter the more important of the two bubbles. The awareness gives turning this thought over a few times merit, because too often the good things, just like bad habits, linger quietly. Good things take their places behind the grumpy routines and the humdrum of our day. Like bad habits and habitual indulgences, good things can go unnoticed for long periods of time.
When I give up an indulgence or bad habit for Lent or any other occasion, what I give up becomes isolated, noticed, and inspected. I start noticing my complacent patterns. That glass of wine while I’m cooking? Never thought about it until I gave up wine on weekdays. That extra helping of dinner? I didn’t realize that I was never really hungry for it until I made a mental note to only have one helping.
Exercising the Mindfulness of Giving Up
I don’t advocate giving up good things like happiness and love. But I do think there is a giving up exercise that can enrich those good things. Perhaps it’s as simple as giving up our complacency about the good things.
Lent is not part of my religious tradition, but I’ll join the giving up energy of it this Lent. I’ll give up my complacency about happiness. I’ll be mindful of it as I stretch into each new day of Lent. I’ll look for it as it follows me, as quiet and as true as a shadow. I’ll pull it up to my chin as I fall into the night and curl up with a good book.
My minister’s query included a parenthetical phrase: “What are you giving up (or taking on) this Lent?” This exercise in giving up will roll easily into taking on.
Love? Why yes! I’ll have some more of that please.
It is Valentine’s Day, after all.
©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2018.