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?
For forty days, what if I give up happiness?
What if I give up love?
During Lent, many give up naughty or indulgent habits. I’m giving up chocolate… alcohol… social media… cigarettes…
Sometimes it’s giving up bad behaviors: gossip, complaining, worry. But what if I give up something good?
Giving Up Good Things
I continued to mush the happiness homily and Lenten question together, and 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 bubbled up:
The former puts me among the more fortunate. I would fail at pushing happiness away.
The latter is arguably the more important of the two bubbles. 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. As I stretch into each new day of Lent, I’ll be mindful of it. 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.
©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2018.
Lent is not in my religious tradition but those I know who observe Lent do the giving up of a pleasure observance. I like your point of view. Not taking things for granted is something that happens more and more as I age.I have to become aware of giving things up but “not yet”. Today I was in a nature preserve, on a trail that I wouldn’t have had problems with 15 years ago. Now I did have problems, and I realized I probably should turn back before I lost my balance and fell. The little things we take for granted until we can’t. (Lesson here, bring a walking stick next time and do more balance exercises – adapt!). Enjoy what we can do for as long as we can. Alana ramblinwitham
One year I gave up going to church for Lent. It had become a chore. After those 40 days with no faith community, I was so hungry to go back, so ready to listen and to learn. I’m sure that’s the way you’ll be as you become more aware of all you happinesses and accept another helping of love.
This post really spoke to me. I have never been good at GIVING UP. As a child, it was candy…but as the daughter of dentist, we didn’t have that much candy around. DOING always feels more like the path to follow. I don’t drink alcohol, but love chocolate. So am I to give that up? I’d rather teach myself about things in life that I should know. That feels positive and I can eat a small piece of chocolate while I read.
I also prefer doing over giving up. Even if the doing part is simply paying attention.
Maybe by giving up the active pursuit of happiness, it comes in its own way. A beautiful sunset, a nice smile, a funny dog, all sneak up on us and make us happy. In some ways, by pushing happiness away, we see how it comes back anyway in its many forms.
I like how happiness comes back that way.
Thought-provoking is right! When I bought a red car in my 20’s and then drove across country, the highway seemed full of red cars…. my attempt at uniqueness thwarted once again. I remember thinking… *they’ve always been here. I’ve just never noticed until I got one myself*. It was my first understanding that what focus on in life is what becomes prominent. Over the years this metaphysical principle has held true for my happiness as well as my sadness (and everything in between)… This simple awareness has helped me see how powerful my own thoughts can be.
Quite thought-provoking, Pennie. I am Lutheran and don’t give up anything for Lent (though my adult daughters do), but you’ve urged me to consider the giving up, of both good and bad. Interesting post. Thank you for stretching my noggin’ a bit today! (Visiting from the Midlife FB group.)
Thanks for visiting. And reading!