It was the end of the day. I had just finished cleaning the kitchen after cooking dinner and was settling into a mindless game on my iPad whilst a Netflix series that I had watched already played in the background. It was more of a source of background noise than it was something that I actually wanted to watch again. The idea of tuning into a screen more attentively than that is somewhat off-putting in the days of coronavirus. I am tuning into screens – and the faces on those screens – much more frequently these days.
As I sat back to lose myself in the swiping left and right of colored blocks on the game I was playing, a text message shot across the screen. The beauty of text messages in this era is that I can be attentive to a conversation without the necessity of holding some semblance of eye contact across the medium of a screen. In some sense, texting has become a wonderful way to communicate with folks that I care about – even in a moment in which I do not really want to talk out loud.
As most conversations, ours started out with the pleasantries – how are you doing? How was the day that is now past? Is the remainder of the week going to be one that is filled with more video conference calls than you care to think about…again? And then, in a single text, the conversation shifted. It was a simple question that came across the screen that caught my attention – perhaps because I was not anticipating the question from the previous messages that were exchanged. In its formulation, it is a simple question. It is only four words! However, once you spend time thinking about a response to the question, it does not take long to realize that it is actually quite a complex question that really demands some thoughtfulness. The question that was asked? “What makes you happy?”
On the surface, it is a simple enough question. When we see a question that simple, we might be tempted to think of the things that we enjoy doing and confuse the doing of those things as happiness. At the root of the question, though, is something much deeper. It is asking something about how you find happiness in life despite external factors. Is it possible to have a happiness that does not dissipate into nothingness after a little while? Thus, the question is really asking how we can go about finding joy in our lives in such a way that it is cultivated into a constant part of who we are rather than an ephemeral feeling that is connected to the release of endorphins.
In thinking about happiness in this way, we are beginning to ask a much bigger question than perhaps we are accustomed when we hear the question, “What makes you happy?” Instead of responding with things that I consume that bring me an ephemeral feeling for a period of time, I am asked to get underneath happiness and to think about how God has created me, how my being has to become a part of the way that I find happiness, and how I am able to use my giftedness, my belovedness to find happiness at the central of my being. The question is now morphing into an ethical question. It is quickly becoming a question about being and not one about a feeling that I might have from time to time.
Over the last few months of the coronavirus pandemic, the entire world has been invited, out of necessity, to discover happiness in a new way. The challenge within the pandemic has been to discover a source of happiness within the space that I inhabit on a daily basis. For many of us, the space that we have been inhabiting more than any other place is our home with our families. Within that, the invitation has included how to find space for the self apart from the others that are within our shared walls of home. The pandemic has forced us to find new ways of seeking happiness, and it has forced us to leave behind the sources that might have provided relief from the grind of everyday mundanity such as traveling to a new place or to visit family or to a time-honored vacation destination for our families. The invitation is to go deep within our being and to encounter God.
In his book Formed by Love, Scott Bader-Saye writes, “Theologically speaking, a life ordered toward happiness is a life ordered toward the enjoyment of God, God’s world, and one another.” The Christian response to the question “what makes you happy,” then, can be boiled down to “God.” If I am hungry to seek after happiness and understand that happiness is something that is found in a life ordered towards God, I might find that I am being invited, in this moment of pandemic, to spend a time of my day in relationship with God. If I am a parent, I am invited to create the space for time with God for my children and to teach them simple ways of praying, of talking with God. In fact, I might find that inviting my children to create space for prayer highlights ways that they are already spending time with God. The desire for happiness is a desire for the good, which we know from the creation story comes from God.
As we all know, the pandemic is not ending in the immediate future. The invitation to find happiness in this moment is an invitation to seek out God in our new normal that is being defined by the pandemic. We are invited to find happiness with God by spending time in God’s being in our own lives. We are invited to create some kind of order in our lives for happiness by creating space for prayer and ordering our lives in God.
How are you invited to order your life towards God in this moment? What makes you happy?