Saturday, August 29, 2009


I tried to get published. Okay, so it was just a letter to the editor at The Atlantic Monthly, but I just got the edition with responses to the article I commented on and no go. I am not being at all bias when I say that my letter was SO much better than the few they did print. :)

But I have a blog, so I can post it here. I am sure I have more readership than the magazine anyway... in some alternate universe. You may read the original article at

The 72 year study traced in “What Makes Us Happy” (J.W. Shenk 06/06) in fact, Positive Psychology itself, sounds anything other than novel to a person schooled in Catholic Theology: among other things a 2000 year study of the human condition. The terminology is sometimes different, but the truth is the same. Mature adaptations, big factors in human happiness the article reports, include such terms as “altruism” which we would call Charity, “Humor and anticipation” are known to us as Hope, “Suppression (a conscious decision to postpone attention to an impulse or conflict to be addressed in good time” is Prudence, and “Sublimation (finding outlets for feelings, like putting aggression into sport or lust into courtship” can be found under the study of the seven deadly sins. The connection between alcohol abuse, smoking and unhappiness can be found in the teachings on the virtue of Temperance.

The incredible insights revealed to those involved in the study have been central in church teaching since her conception:

*“That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people,” is not only fundamental to Catholicism, it is more recently at the heart of every writing of the Late, Great John Paul II.

*“Humans too, when confronted with irritants, engage in unconscious, but often creative behavior,” is nothing more (and far less) than Church h teaching on the Redemptive power of suffering.

*“It is very hard, Valliant said, for most of us to tolerate being loved.” This is the heart of Christian Theology. It was the original mission of the Apostles, the continued goal of the Church and the purpose of all human life. To recognize that we are loved by a Creator God. A God who so loved the world that He sent His only Son.

In 72 years, those involved with the Grant Study have simply proved a mere portion of what the Catholic Church has been teaching for over 2000 years. A happy life is a life of Virtue: Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. Human nature is flawed, but because of a loving God, has the potential to be perfected. It is through suffering with a deep understanding of its Redemptive Purpose, that we can not only endure suffering, but become the better for it, not just in this life but for eternity.

Humility is defined by Shenk as “an earnest acceptance of life’s pains and promises” and is his own final thought on “the key to the good life.” The Church has always held these keys: The purpose of human suffering and the proclamation of the promise of eternal life from the author of life itself.

In days gone by, the Church would have given credence to this microscopic study of human nature. Sadly, today, it is the inverse. Perhaps this blip on the screen in comparison to the body of knowledge that can be found in the teachings of the Catholic Church will allow science to give credence to its master.

Of course, not all Catholics are happy. But not all Catholics have lived out the teachings of the church to the same degree. Even a limited study of the Saints (documented models in living the virtues and understanding the Church’s stated purpose of human life) will show them to have many different personalities, strengths, and come from vastly differing circumstances. The one thing that is common to all, from the simple hermit, to the brilliant theologian, to the brave martyr is joy. What modernity would call happiness.

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