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Everyone wants to be happy. Many, however, wrongly believe that happiness comes from having enough money, fame, personal comfort, worldly success, or even dumb luck. Happiness just seems to be so elusive and arbitrary -- something all too often just out of reach.

Joan Chittister sees happiness differently. To her it is not a by-product of wealth or success but, rather, a personal quality to be learned, mastered, and fearlessly wielded. Happiness, she says, "is an organ of the ...

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Everyone wants to be happy. Many, however, wrongly believe that happiness comes from having enough money, fame, personal comfort, worldly success, or even dumb luck. Happiness just seems to be so elusive and arbitrary -- something all too often just out of reach.

Joan Chittister sees happiness differently. To her it is not a by-product of wealth or success but, rather, a personal quality to be learned, mastered, and fearlessly wielded. Happiness, she says, "is an organ of the soul that is meant to be nourished." In these pages Chittister develops “an archeology of happiness” as she conducts a happiness “dig” through sociology, biology, neurology, psychology, philosophy, history, and world religions. Sifting through the wisdom of the ages, Chittister offers inspiring insights that will help seekers everywhere learn to cultivate true and lasting happiness within themselves.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Phyllis Tickle
-- author of The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why
"Sr. Joan Chittister never disappoints; but here she has exceeded even her own high standards. Happiness is a penetrating, insightful, wide-ranging study of its subject, and yet it is much more than that. It is pastoral. A thoughtful reader will be wiser for having read it, certainly, but also more complete and, I would wager, more at peace."

Rabbi Michael Lerner
-- editor of Tikkun magazine
"Joan Chittister has hit another home run with her book Happiness. Already a contemporary saint and an embodiment of the spiritual elder 'wise woman,' Benedictine Sister Joan draws her insights not only from the most profound philosophers and every major religious tradition East and West, but also from her own experience of a life well lived, consciously lived, and beautifully lived. This book has gems and insights in every chapter that will guide and awaken the reader to the rich possibilities of life."

Library Journal (starred review)
"Chittister's usual excellent and fluent style lends credence to this gentle reminder of the meaning of happiness (and perhaps of life in general). A good fit for readers of any faith yearning for contentment and self-improvement."

Library Journal
Chittister (God's Tender Mercy), a Benedictine nun and a favorite in these pages, has written a book on that ever-elusive goal, happiness. In the course of a tour through the sciences, psychology, philosophy, history, and the lessons of the world's major religions, Chittister concludes that happiness is not a matter of luck but is something we create—a process of appreciating what we have and pursuing worthwhile goals. VERDICT Chittister's usual excellent and fluent style lends credence to this gentle reminder of the meaning of happiness (and perhaps of life in general). A good fit for readers of any faith yearning for contentment and self-improvement.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802864819
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 9/23/2011
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 225
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Joan Chittister is a Benedictine sister and founding executive director of Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary spirituality in Erie, Pennsylvania. An internationally known writer and lecturer, she serves as co-chair of the UN's Global Peace Initiative of Women, writes the column "From Where I Stand" in the National Catholic Reporter, and is a regular blogger for the Huffington Post. Her more than forty books include The Story of Ruth: Twelve Moments in Every Woman's Life (with John August Swanson), Welcome to the Wisdom of the World and Its Meaning for You, The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully, Uncommon Gratitude (with Rowan Williams), The Monastery of the Heart, and God's Tender Mercy: Reflections on Forgiveness.
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Read an Excerpt


By Joan Chittister

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2011 Joan Chittister
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8028-6481-9

Chapter One

Happiness Is a Process

Everybody I know wants to be happy. Never before in history has so much been written about happiness by so many. What it means to be "happy" and the process of getting it has been dissected over and over again and found to be more a maze than a map. The answers have been many, but the emotional sleight-of-hand it takes to achieve the various kinds of happiness people talk about seems, at best, to be elusive.

The relative distance between real happiness and commercial fantasy in a consumer society, for instance, is about the same distance as the trip between here and the moon. It's within the grasp of technology to get us to the moon, of course — but at the same time it's highly unlikely that we ourselves will get there. So does not having the money to get to the capitalist moon mean that we will never be fully developed human beings, totally contented purveyors of our own lives?

It's possible, too, that some people, at least, will someday have enough money to get everything this society says is of the essence of happiness, but, given the vast collection of things we're told we want, it's equally doubtful. Whole industries have been created in the consumer West that are intent on doing nothing more than generating unfulfillable desires in the rest of us. And so, ironically, as a result, they actually make the kind of happiness that depends on having the most, the latest, the best totally impossible, because there will always be something new out there that we do not yet have.

It's doable, too, to spend our lives going on the endless happiness quest. We have at our disposal in this world all it takes to get us to wherever happiness is. After all, we know all the promises; we see all the ads; we can get anywhere anyone tells us to go — the indoor ski slope in Dubai, a tropical island in the Pacific, a mansion on a mountaintop on the Riviera. But it's improbable at the same time that most of us are the kind of people who will be given a ticket for the trip. And if we got there, would it, in the end, really make any difference?

But we go on dreaming the dreams anyway. It's exciting to think that someday we will finally gather for ourselves all the things, all the experiences, that make life fascinating, interesting, comfortable, and secure. The fantasy is sweet. Yet at the end of any given bill-paying day, we know down deep that it is wishful, at best, to assume it.

So, does that count us out? Is happiness — real happiness — impossible for the likes of us? Is the very hope of it nothing more than mist slipping through our fingertips? Is it time to quit our childish graspings for a moon long out of sight, a mirage, at most, a silly, unreal, empty adolescent dream? "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation," Thoreau wrote. And they go to their graves with the song still in them. Was he talking about us? Is it time to forget the whole thing, to accept the dust of our days? Or is it time to take a more simple, realistic, soulful approach to the whole thing?

The fact is that people don't get to the moon by hoping to go there. They train and study for the trip for years; they know that really being able to manage a journey like this depends as much on what changes in them personally as a result of all that training as on what happens to the technology that will catapult them there.

People don't get happiness simply by wanting it. Waiting for it doesn't guarantee it. Hoping for it won't produce it. We have to know what it is before we'll ever know if we have it or not.

A pop-up ad on my computer exposed the whole heresy that surrounds happiness in a modern society. "Wake up happy," the ad read. "Signed, hotels. com."

The implications of that kind of thinking are sad enough, silly enough, to make a person shudder. All you need to be happy these days, in our world — one ad after another tells us — is to use the right toothpaste, go to the right schools, drive the right cars, get the right salary, snare the right promotion, marry the right person — and wake up in the right hotel. The question that follows that kind of thinking is a brutal one: How much will you have to buy in this consumer world to be happy where needs are manufactured and then priced beyond the average person's ability ever to acquire them all? And if you do get them, what do you do with them?

What is happiness then?

The truth is, as the Kenyans say, "Those who have cattle have care." Accumulation is no substitute for much of anything. Except, of course, more of the same. More cars, more boats, more houses, more maintenance. But more of the same things do little or nothing to stretch our souls to new depths of understanding, to deepen our insights, to develop our wisdom.

No, happiness does not come quickly. It is not conferred by any single event, however exciting or comforting or satisfying the event may be. It cannot be purchased, whatever the allure of the next, the newest, the brightest, the best. Happiness, like Carl Sandburg's fog, "comes on little cat feet," often silently, often without our knowing it, too often without our noticing.

The problem is that we don't like "slowly" anymore. In anything. We want instant wealth and instant success. As a result, we have not a clue about the layers of enrichment that come with learning to live life slowly.

The beauty of learning to cast a lure and wait for hours for a tug on the line that may never come escapes us now. We buy our fish; we don't catch it. We get it filleted and packaged in cling wrap instead of wet and shiny from the sea. We get our fruit peeled and chopped at the delicatessen. We don't pick it from the trees anymore. We miss the moment of stopping to watch the sun go down before we pull the fish in over the stern or climb down the ladder with the basket of cherries.

We have lost touch with the awareness of how many hours of practice it took the wood worker before the hand-carved oaken frame we buy for the library desk could possibly have been good enough, creative enough, masterful enough to be sold.

So how can we possibly have the patience to extract the meaning of the moments of our lives as we race through them from one to another?

George Vaillant's historic longitudinal study of Harvard men and Lewis Terman's similar study of men and women trace the slow unfolding of a person, of their lives, and most of all, of their understanding of their lives. Asked again and again over the years what they would most have wished could have been changed for them, the men and women in the study were more likely as they got older to say "nothing." They would, they declared, change nothing of it. Not the deaths, not the embarrassments, not the struggles, not the losses. To change anything in their personal histories, they had come to realize, would have diminished the gem that was their lives, that had been cut and shined slowly in the studios of life, that had made them what, at the end, they had finally become.

Clearly, happiness is an acquired taste. It comes from being steeped in the truths of life long enough to have learned not only how to survive them but how to get beyond the cosmetics of them to drink from the root of them. It is a many splendored thing, this movement from being alive to being full of life. It comes in many stages, made up of many experiences. It takes a lifetime of learning both how to be with others and how to be alone.

Adulthood, for instance, is the process of getting to know the self. Marriage enables us to get to know the perspectives and truths of someone beyond the self. Growth allows every part of an organism to develop at a pace in harmony with the rest of the system. But wisdom is the process of distilling the meaning of life from the experiences of life. And each of those periods, each of those processes, takes years.

It is out of this kind of reflection that happiness seeps through the apparently most meaningless events of life to become the very essence of our lives. We watch our children move from temper tantrums at the age of two, past the sulkiness of adolescence, to the strength of character that takes them beyond the despair of their first failures and beyond the arrogance of their first successes as well. And we're happy. Were there ever moments in their growing up when we might have wished we had never had children at all? Yes, of course. Why? Because happiness is a process made up of all the bits of a thing — both sour and sweet — until sweet is the final stage of the process called parenting. We remember, too, the glow in our own parents' eyes when they saw us reach the point of independence and integrity, of adult commitment and moral purpose, and we were all happy — both we and they — all the temper tantrums forgotten, all the pouting turned to smiles, all the failure worth the failing.

Happiness is the process of bringing life to the point of understanding why what happened, happened. It is the point at which we accept what happened to us as necessary, or at least as important to our growth. It is the point at which we reach a sense of fullness of life, of needing nothing else, of being complete in ourselves. And, finally, it is the process of having come to the point where we could give ourselves away to something greater than ourselves.

"Give us joy to balance our affliction," the psalmist prays. Were there good times along the way? Of course there were. It is those that maintained our spirits when we wanted to quit. Were there hard times when we would have preferred the smooth? Of course there were. It is those that provided the alchemy of life. They turned us into adults. They gave us compassion for others. They gave us hope in the future and the courage to pursue it.

Life is about developing the skills for living. It is about coming to the ripeness of the self. It is about discovering what it really takes to be happy. And that takes a long, long time. So, if I am not happy now, at this time in my life, the question is, What am I being called to learn that will carry me through this moment to the point where I am capable of the next?

At the end, we come to know that indeed happiness is no one event, no single achievement. The pursuit of happiness is a summons of the heart to pursue the greatness of the soul. Obviously, then, if we give it both the time and the wisdom it takes to recognize happiness when we have it, it will be a gradually dawning insight.

Chapter Two

The Meaning of Happiness in a Global Age

If someone asked you what you want out of life, what would you say? Or, better yet, if they asked your Chinese counterparts in some rural village what they want out of life, what would they say? Do you both want the same things? Or are you radically different from one another? And if you are, what does that have to tell us about the character of the world to come? If we all want something different — based on who we are and where we live — how can we possibly appreciate the other person's needs?

On the other hand, to want the same things can only lead us into fierce competition for a finite amount of finite things — water, for instance, or food maybe, or minerals and fossil fuels, certainly. If happiness lies in having things that are by nature limited, the whole hope for world peace is at best a fantasy. That scenario dooms us to a kind of happiness in reach only for those with enough power, enough force, to take what they want when they want it, whatever the effect on the rest of the world.

What, in fact, does it say even about our ability to do business together if we all want different things? Then happiness becomes an exercise in self-centeredness — to our peril. If we do not have common interests, common concerns, common needs, then the points of contact and growth, of wisdom and knowledge will certainly be limited. Our very opportunities to grow must surely be affected. Clearly, the implications of such emotional isolationism beg for a definition of happiness that is broader than preoccupation with the self can possibly either give or get.

These are important questions in a global age. Questions such as these can decide the very political environment of the world to come and our own decisions within it. It can affect even the social fabric of democracies themselves.

No, the pursuit of happiness is not simply the idle interest of social dilettantes. It brings with it the kind of issues that may well have a bearing on the development of the human community in years to come, as well as on our own lives. The desire for happiness affects people on every level of their being. It impacts us emotionally. It drives human decision-making. It touches on our relationships. It colors national politics. And, in the not too distant future, it could well influence even our international relations.

But now there is a new factor in the global equation of human desire. For the first time in human history, in our lifetime, technology has become the social glue of civilization. More than simply a communication system, the Internet has meant that our capacity for immediacy — for instant access into every corner and crevasse of the world — has leapt mountains, ignored national borders, invaded the minds and souls of the human community everywhere. Now we can all probe the meaning of happiness together. We can want the same things, the same happiness, together. The only question is whether the world can translate happiness for itself in ways that do not make happiness impossible for others.

But we know all that. We have, indeed, become accustomed to being able to move wealth around the world at the touch of the "send" key on a home computer. We take for granted now that we will be able to watch earthquakes in real time in the Middle East and Olympic games in Beijing and rescues off a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis while we sit in our living rooms and surf the Web.

What we might be less conscious of, less alert to, is that technology has also become an important tool for the science of human development. For years, of course, computers have been used to do the statistical gymnastics crucial to the interpretation of basic psychological tests. Now, their use is far more sophisticated and increasingly more personal than that.

At another, even more sophisticated level, technology has quietly, consistently, become a tool of human community. Almost without our knowing it, at least in some parts of the academic world, the thoughts and feelings and desires of the human race are being tapped and tested for similarities and differences, for commonalities and distinctions that purport to answer some of the world's oldest questions: What is a human being? Are human beings of one race more or less like human beings of another race? Are national characteristics more or less important than sexual characteristics across borders and boundaries? Is happiness real — and if so — what is it?

Finally, for the first time in history, in your lifetime and mine, psychologists, philosophers, and social scientists can ask the entire world the great questions of life, about happiness, among others — all at one time and all in their own languages — and expect to get an answer. A human answer. A global answer.

In 2009, for instance, a handful of religious leaders from every major spiritual tradition on the globe — Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim; swamis, Sufis, imams, rabbis, elders, nuns, bishops, and ministers — in league with a group of computer programmers, designers, and engineers, launched a project to determine whether or not it would be possible to have the world write and embrace one common universal "charter of compassion." In a period rife with the threat of a new "clash of civilizations," the practice of such technological democracy has import for the very development of a new kind of world community.

Clearly, we are not social isolates anymore. Language is not a barrier anymore. Distance is not distancing anymore. National borders are not steel curtains anymore. We are all in this global soup, swimming around together, all of us in search of a life we call "happy."

It is, indeed, a new age.

More than that, it is a moment of new insight into the human soul.

Now we can do a great deal more than count people, and make maps, and reduce the world to the statistics of commerce and politics. Now we can engage with one another in the process of answering the great questions of life.


Excerpted from HAPPINESS by Joan Chittister Copyright © 2011 by Joan Chittister. Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


1. Happiness Is a Process....................1
2. The Meaning of Happiness in a Global Age....................7
3. What Social Data Tells Us and What It Does Not....................15
4. What Makes People around the Globe Happy....................18
5. Group, Self, or Something Else....................22
6. What Makes a Person Happy....................28
7. Personal Health and Happiness....................32
8. Happiness Is a Cultural Expectation....................35
9. Happiness and the Brain....................43
10. Hardwired for Happiness....................50
11. Happiness Is a Goal....................54
12. Happiness Is a Value....................58
13. Psychology and Happiness....................67
14. The Foundations of Happiness....................71
15. The Essence of Happiness: What It Is Not....................76
16. Happiness: The Way to More of It....................81
17. The Qualities of Happiness....................87
18. Positivity....................97
19. Extroversion....................101
20. Relatedness....................105
21. Competence....................109
22. Autonomy....................113
23. Meaning....................117
24. When Unhappiness Washes over Us, What Then?....................120
25. Philosophy: The Search for Meaning....................127
26. Happiness from There to Here....................132
27. Happiness and Pleasure....................138
28. Happiness Is Pursued, Not Achieved....................142
29. Happiness Is Possible but Not Guaranteed....................147
30. Happiness and Choice....................151
31. Happiness and Human Rights....................157
32. Pleasure and Happiness: The Difference between Them....................161
33. The Good Life: The Happiness That Lasts....................169
34. Religion: A Finger Pointing at the Moon....................173
35. Hinduism: The One Thing Necessary....................177
36. Hinduism: The Measure of the Happy Life....................180
37. Buddhism: The Call to End Suffering....................183
38. Buddhism: The Path to Freedom....................186
39. Judaism: Chosen to Be Happy....................190
40. Judaism: The People of the Law....................194
41. Christianity: The Happy Life Is Elsewhere....................198
42. Christianity: Happy Are They Who ....................202
43. Islam: Submission and Community....................206
44. Islam: Living the Good Life....................209
45. Religion and the Paths to Happiness....................213
Epilogue: Putting the Pieces Together....................219
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