With all due respect to the artist "Pharrell", happiness involves far more than just listening to some catchy little pop number that makes you feel happy… or at least it makes you feel happy the first five thousand times you hear it, until you really do begin to wonder whether or not the devil wrote it simply as a means to torment you. Do you remember the song Mmm Bop? Shiny Happy People? "Don't Worry Be Happy"? Oh yes, I think you do, and I think you know exactly what I mean. And what about all those times when as a youngster you were given free reign to eat all of the candy in creation if it pleased you, only to find out that what started out as a candilcious dream, has ended in a candy-coated nightmare? Does any of this ring a bell to you?
Yet just as I began to disqualify myself indefinitely from any future gifts, my mother, in her classic style, pulled from the cushions of the couch one final rectangular box, one that she apparently "forgot" about altogether (I am not sure why a forgotten gift would be under the couch cushion, but that was part of the surprise). Yes, in spite of my poor attitude, she nevertheless handed me the much coveted prize; the one and only, PACMAN! Oh the shame of my ingratitude! I was deeply embarrassed, but what I felt even more intensely was the great joy of getting exactly what I wanted. I pulled the wrapping from the package, thanked my mom and dad, and ran to plug it into the console.
Did it meet my expectations? Was it the video equivalent of the beatific vision? Let me just says this right now: if Atari PacMan is what heaven is like, then we are all in BIG trouble. Oh my goodness, it barely even resembled the original. Sure there was a PacMan like creature on the screen eating pellets or whatever they eat (they looked more like giant hyphens to me). But nothing else on the screen really resembled (at least in a satisfactory way) the arcade version. The most "exciting" moment in the game occurred when you ate all of the "pellets" and successfully cleared the board. So what did you get for this fabulous accomplishment? Are you ready boys and girls? You got to repeat the same level over and over again, with the additional reward of receiving a new "PacMan" each time (indicated by the spectacular green dot below).
My point is this: I was bored with that stupid game within about an hour of receiving it. All of that energy and nonsense over something so frivolous and fleeting, and what for? Still, you may be tempted to point out that in the end I did ultimately show gratitude for what I got. But the truth is I was only thankful because I got exactly what I demanded from my parents. And even then my sense of gratitude was extremely brief and superficial. Yet what this incident revealed was something far more important than my ultimate displeasure with a toy.
The First Law of gift-giving is that nothing is deserved. Indeed, the moment that something is demanded it ceases to be a gift. The man who deserves everything enjoys nothing, while the man who deserves nothing, awakes to find that the whole world is covered in wrapping paper. Hence, the secret to happiness is gratitude- not the kind that comes from getting precisely what is asked for- but the kind that is constantly marveling at how much has already been given. Do not go about praying the loathsome prayer of Veruca Salt (i.e. "I want it now"), rather pray to see with gratitude all that is presently in front of your eyes, and then proceed to thank God for the very eyeballs through which you saw it all in the first place. Do this and the whole world will be granted unto you.
Sin gives us a terrible astigmatism, a far-sidedness that renders us blind to the goodness that is right in front of us. I think this is why God spends so much time praising the poor and the child alike, for the poor man recognizes that anything added to life is a luxury, and the child sees the world in a spirit of wonder because everyday some new marvel is thrown at him. The question is how does one develop this disposition if one lacks it? The best way to accomplish this (on a practical level) is by moving away from an impersonal and generic gratitude for things, and towards a more "particular" kind of praise, a litany of thankfulness that focuses on praising the particular. From the most obvious, to the most odd things- we must take the time to single them out and praise them. I think when people pray to God they believe it has to involve either asking Him for something, or saying something profound. This manner of prayer about which I speak is so simple anyone can practice it. Merely think of all the things you are grateful for, but be as specific as possible. For example, you should not only thank God for the existence of your father, but you should thank him for your father's laughter (if it pleases you); you should not only thank God for your spouse, but for your spouse's nose (as I do); thank Him not only for the trees and sky, but also for the dirt roads that wander who knows where, and the rusty mail boxes attached to mysterious homes built on the side of mountains. A man who praises such things will never run out of reasons to be grateful to God. This is the creative work that must be undertaken if one is to truly be happy.
You might wonder what this spirit of gratitude would look like in practice. Simply watch the following viral video, and you will get a good glimpse of what true happiness and humility look like. Unlike me on my 11th birthday, this child expects nothing (as should be obvious by the way he reacts to receiving a cutting board), and so when he receives something which is truly beyond his wildest imagination, he genuinely responds as one does when winning the lottery. Yes it is true, the man (or child) who sees the world with a grateful eye, does indeed feel as if they have won the lottery, no matter how much he has materially.