Is It a Sin to Feel Happy?

The feeling of happiness, like any other human feeling, is quite subjective. If we look at it impartially, without regard to its content, then we can say with confidence that there is nothing sinful in such a feeling. The problem lies in what we consider happiness, whether we are constantly looking for it, how attached we are to it, etc.

It is no secret that most people associate happiness with earthly well-being. What I mean by it is not so much material wealth (although in this case it is also important) as good work and family relations, self-realization, friends, children, personal and family health etc. These are all wonderful things, and we need to thank God for them. Let us think however how they align with the words of Christ: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. ”(John 15: 18-19),and also: “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”(Matthew 10:22). The question arises: if my understanding of happiness includes only earthly blessings, then then how does it relate to the Cross and Golgotha? Shouldn’t these essential attributes of our salvation also be present in the life of a Christian?

Let me emphasize that the earthly goods that we possess are not sinful in themselves. If the Lord has endowed us with something at a given period of our life, then we should not somehow reject it or perceive the resulting feeling of happiness as uniquely vicious. At the same time, we must not forget that we are surrounded by a large number of suffering people. Helping them is the most important Christian virtue. A happy person cannot look with envy at those who live better than him, thus becoming even more attached to earthly goods and producing the sickness of his soul. A healthy soul will always turn its eyes to the one who is worse off. If we have even a small capacity for empathy, if we know from personal experience what pain feels like, then we will not be able to calmly indulge in our own well-being.

In order to assess the essence of our own feeling of happiness, it is worth asking ourselves the question: will I be also happy if I or my loved ones are struck by a serious illness? I think the majority will answer in the negative. This only suggests that we understand happiness merely in an earthly context. In no case am I urging you to specifically look for any problems in your life, but we shouldn’t forget that our current happiness is quite fragile and can crumble in an instant. It isn’t for nothing that St Theophan the Recluse wrote: “Mental and bodily life, under favourable conditions, gives something similar to happiness; but is essentially a transient gleam of happiness that soon disappears.” St John Chrysostom offers another, also very particular instruction: “God does not leave people forever, neither in misfortune, so that we do not collapse, nor in happiness, so that we do not become careless. Instead He arranges various ways for our salvation.”

You can be happy in struggle, opposition, sorrows and trials, thanking God for all these. But this happiness is of a completely different kind. Moreover, when a person is busy with physical, mental or spiritual work, he simply has no time to be distracted by thoughts about whether he is happy or not. When a person has a goal, as well as the means and desire to achieve it, it completely absorbs his mind and aspirations, not allowing him such a luxury as thoughts of happiness. St Gregory the Theologian, in his Mysterious Chants, conveyed to us an prominent dialogue: “One gold-lover once said, “I wish you a drop of happiness rather than a barrel of sense.” But the wise man objected to him, saying, “A drop of wit is better for me than a sea of happiness.”

It is hardly worthwhile to somehow deliberately seek happiness. No matter how much we want to achieve it, we must not forget that we are Christians, and therefore, first of all, we need to seek the Kingdom of God, because everything else will be added (Matt. 6:33). The search for happiness is fraught with the commission of new sins and the acquisition of new passions, which we already have in abundance. St John Chrysostom in one of his talks on the Gospel of John said, “Happiness can easily seduce and corrupt inattentive people.”

We must evaluate our every deed and every desire not from the human viewpoint (because much can be justified in worldly terms) but in the light of eternity, where there are no shades other than “black and white”. Things are either good or evil there: love or selfishness; God or the devil; salvation or destruction. Therefore, all our desires and aspirations must be identified with such a “litmus test”. Here I have cited only a few sayings of the holy fathers, but enough to understand that for the most part they regard earthly happiness rather reservedly, not to say negatively. For example, saint. Basil the Great writes that “wealth, health and extravagance” cannot be regarded as good by nature, because they not only easily change into the opposite, but “also cannot make their possessors good.” As you can see, the problem here is not in the earthly goods themselves, but in our attitude towards them.

Summing up this little reflection, I would like to repeat that there is nothing sinful in the feeling of happiness if we do not revel in it, fawning over the objects (or subjects) of our happiness and fearing to lose them. We should also be able to sincerely thank God for what we have. It is hardly beneficial to deliberately be seeking happiness, as opposed to just living life, being honest and sincere with our conscience, as well as before God and people. We need to learn to be content with what we have, and not to forget about those who are in much worse conditions than us. The key is to enjoy every new day, but also to remember the fragility of our earthly well-being.

Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds

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