Sunday, 17 January 2010


I imagine many people berate themselves in their private moments for being happy when there is so much misery being reported on TV and in newspapers. They feel a sense of guilt. “Is it right that things should be going so well for me and that I should feel this happy when so many are suffering from the loss of loved ones and lack of the basic necessities of life?”

It seems to be yet another of the strange paradoxes of life that some can be deliriously happy whilst others are in the depths of despair. Is it right? Should God allow it? These are questions people often ask when faced with their apparent inability to feel as sad as they feel they should, at the misfortunes of others. I do not think it is a matter of right and wrong and certainly the idea that God should forbid this or grant that would mean abandoning human free will.

Happiness and misery are states of mind; admittedly states of mind frequently brought about by external circumstances but nevertheless it is our inner response to these events that makes us happy or miserable. Even in the most dire circumstances, some people are so able to focus on doing everything possible to help themselves and others, that they have no time to feel sadness or despair. They feel compassion for those who have lost loved ones, their homes, or are incapacitated but they know instinctively, that to allow themselves to feel misery would be self-indulgence. There were people in concentration camps during world war two who spent their time being kind and helpful to those suffering even more than they themselves; they appeared to remain cheerful and smiling no matter what was happening; some would even take the blame for certain things in order that others should escape punishment at the hands of the guards. Such people are considered saintly by everyone except themselves and what they are doing is allowing the light of their spirit to shine out instead of hiding it under a bushel of self-pity.

Guilt is a peculiarly human emotion that is always counter-productive. If only we could remember that not one of us is perfect and that mistakes are not only inevitable but are the means by which we learn valuable lessons. To recognise that we have erred and to wish to make it up to those we may have hurt in the process is a positive, character building thing, whereas guilt is negative and because it leads often to self-pity, it saps our will and delays the time when we know we need to make amends. Guilt about one’s own happiness at a time when there is some major catastrophe capturing the headlines, is to deny ourselves the reward for earlier efforts, which are what produced the happiness. It does nothing to assist those in need. Indeed, when we are happy and relaxed, we are in a much better state of mind to be of help to those who are suffering, than if we convince ourselves we are wrong to feel happy at such a time.

Whilst I do not support the view that the object of life is happiness, I do understand what gave rise to the sentiment. The object of life surely, is progress; to be able to move from darkness to light and from ignorance to knowledge. However, such objectives are much easier to achieve if we allow ourselves to be happy. We are back now to the realisation that happiness is a state of mind and is not dependent upon external events. One basic necessity to enable us to understand the concepts of happiness, misery, deprivation and loss is this: Acceptance of the concept that life is of the spirit, is eternal and does not consist merely of life on earth. Once we are able to accept that, then everything, whether it is tragic or delightful, appears in its true light. Loss of loved ones and friends, though heart-wrenching, is temporary and we will all be reunited in the life that continues beyond this one. Loss of material possessions, though inconvenient and frustrating, does not mean the end of our existence. Indeed we may find ourselves becoming infinitely better people without those possessions. Attachment to material things is as dross to the light of our spirit; it makes it difficult for us to be aware that we are spirit and need to release that light in order to become whole.

Please do not feel guilt that you are feeling happy at present while others are in the depths of despair. Instead use your happiness to focus the light of your spirit on how you can help ease the burden of those and others who may be closer to home.

“Walk in the light and you will own,
That fellowship of love,
His spirit only can bestow,
Who dwells in light above”

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