On Character — Chapter 2 “Happiness”

Happiness

Happiness

Health and happiness are generally looked on as enviable gifts, whereas the fact is that, to a very large extent, they are duties; only we prefer not to recognize this, as it involves such an unpleasant amount of self-control, mental and bodily.” [Ch. 2, pg. 21]

I have to begin with this piece of wisdom, because none of the rest of the thoughts Ms. Soulsby offers will be worth a straw unless we recognize that personal happiness is largely the responsibility of said person. Beyond that, it is our Christian duty to do our best to be (not act) happy and hopeful–to claim the joy of the Lord that is promised as our strength.

Everybody has aches and pains and more capacities in their nature than life satisfies; so far, you are but in ‘the beaten and common way.’ If you want to be an Elect Soul, with so rare and delicate an individuality about you that all shall single you out from the mass–be happy.” [Ch. 2, pg. 24]

This is something I aspire to, not because I expect happiness out of life, but because I know that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” [1 Timothy 6:6] I know that contentment, joy, the peace of resting in God are all tied up in one another–that these things can only come from pursuing a close relationship with God. Likewise, my earthly relationships–especially my marriage–cannot be right unless they are in Christ. As Ms. Soulsby puts it, “Surely it is also true that we cannot be one with those we love, except in Him in Whom alone we are truly one.” [Ch. 2, pg. 26]

…this emotional nature is a woman’s special gift and power and source of happiness and she should seek to guide it, not kill it…an unfailing store of happiness belongs to her who cares to listen to details about other people’s lives, who can really inquire into their good or bad nights without its being merely an excuse for introducing her own experiences.” [Ch. 2, pg. 30]

Ms. Soulsby often returns to the idea that women’s happiness is to a large extent based on giving to others. While I believe this is especially true for women, I think God has written it into the paradoxical spiritual laws of the universe that anyone who wants to find their life has got to give it up. [Matthew 10:39] And I love that Ms. Soulsby again brings it into such practical terms as genuinely inquiring into how someone slept.

Happiness and hopefulness are acquired tastes, and higher in the scale of civilization and spirituality than the mere temperamental animal endowments of being cheerful and sanguine.” [Ch. 2, pg. 31-32]

This excellent distinction between natural (or even forced) disposition and learning to practice godly virtues is worth noting. God doesn’t expect me to go around with a smile pasted on my face, but He does want me to practice habits that honor Him and uplift others. What better way to do so than sitting at His feet and gathering enough happiness and hopefulness to have some leftover to share?

Finally, Ms. Soulsby suggests some simple ways to “acquire” these “tastes.” Much like my garden, my character needs cultivation and careful planning to amount to anything. I’ll leave you with Ms. Soulsby’s pragmatic remarks on the matter.

Habits to cultivate:

  1. A habit of enjoying and mentioning small pleasures.
  2. A habit of never putting disagreeables into words.
  3. A habit of detecting the possibilities of good in things and people.
  4. A habit of letting people know how much you like them.
  5. A habit of idealizing about what you have, rather than complaining about what you haven’t.
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