A Formula for Happiness
On the day of Pentecost, the giddy disciples of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak about the mighty acts of God in various tongues. “They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others said, scoffing, ‘They have had too much new wine.’ Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them, ‘You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem. Let this be known to you, and listen to my words. These people are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning’” (Acts 2:12-15).
Alleluia! The word itself is so peculiar it sounds like we’re either speaking in tongues, babbling like a child, or inebriated like a patron on Bourbon Street. Hallelujah is a transliteration of two Hebrew terms meaning, “Praise the Lord!” It’s an attempt to express our inexpressible happiness after a sobering Lenten season. “In the presence of the mystery that we celebrate on Easter, the mystery of our redemption, our usual intelligible vocabulary is inadequate; when faced with the super abundant mercy of God we can only stammer in amazement like children,” wrote Balthasar Fischer in Signs, Words, and Gestures (Pueblo Publishing Co., 1981).
Yet, the sheer repetition of Alleluia throughout the Easter season won’t instill happiness in the one uttering it, if a personal experience of God’s profound love and mercy is lacking. How can our ecstatic hearts keep from singing Alleluia, if to know God is to feel elation? This, of course, begs the question: What makes us happy?
On a trip to Tokyo in 1922, Albert Einstein discovered he was without money to tip a bellboy. Sensing the gravity of the faux pas, he scribbled a formula for happiness on a piece of paper—not as famous as his E = mc2—but isn’t it all relative? His handwritten note read: “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”
Last year, the note sold for $1.56 million at an auction in Jerusalem. Who says money can’t buy happiness? (Or, as Henny Youngman once asked, “What’s the use of happiness? It can’t buy you money.”)
Is there a secret formula for happiness? According to Earnie Larsen, “The two deepest desires most people have are: to love and be loved and to believe they are worthwhile and know someone else believes that also. In other words, to be happy we need someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to.”
Happiness, then, isn’t winning a few bucks in the lottery. It’s playing ball with your grandson. Happiness isn’t determined by our number of friends on Facebook, but in befriending our Redeemer who tied a towel around his waist, poured water into a basin, and washed his disciples’ feet. After performing this service, the master-turned-attendant tipped us with a formula for contentment:
“I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:15).
Fr. Byron Miller, CSsR