Resisting Happiness, Matthew Kelly (Beacon Publishing, 167 pages, $8.42 on Kindle at Amazon.ca). Illustration courtesy of Amazon

Book: Practical advice to stop resisting happiness

By  Cathy Majtenyi, Catholic Register Special
  • April 22, 2017

It smacks us in the face pretty much every day — that sluggish, sinking-in-the-quicksand sensation of knowing what we should be doing, but not doing it.

The Apostle St. Paul cries out, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but do the very thing I hate.” We call it laziness, weakness, indifference, fear, burn-out, being overwhelmed, anxiety, even sin.

New York Times best-selling author, international speaker and business consultant Matthew Kelly calls it “resistance.” The basic premise of Kelly’s latest book, Resisting Happiness, is that resistance is a barrier between happiness and us. And, because God is happiness, he writes, “When we resist happiness, we are really resisting God.”

When we pray first thing in the morning, when we eat nutritious foods, exercise, set and accomplish goals or do anything else that God is calling us to do, we become what Kelly calls “a better version of ourselves.” But when we allow distractions, fears, anxieties, lack of discipline or any of the other masks resistance wears to derail us, we cut ourselves off from the people, experiences, things and behaviours that help us to be who God created us to be.

Slaying resistance is a daily, sometimes minute-by-minute, battle that we must successfully win to be happy, says Kelly.

In clear, engaging prose, Kelly shares an array of personal experiences that illustrate how he received great happiness by putting God first in his life, which is the bedrock of defeating resistance.

His book is chock-full of practical advice for how we can get closer to God and, as a result, become happier people. The advice that made me sit up includes:

  • o Offer each hour of our work to God as a prayer for a specific person or particular intention.
  • o Deny ourselves in small ways many times a day so God can fill us with spiritual strength.
  • o Be kind and merciful to others because they are fighting a hard battle we do not know about.
  • o Listen to what God may be trying to tell us through our dissatisfaction.

Kelly presents a vast repertoire of philosophies, ranging from the obvious money-can’t-buy-you-happiness to the less obvious it’s-good-to-think-about-death-from-time-to-time. It’s all about understanding the nature of happiness.

But scratch the surface of Resisting Happiness and a few theological bugbears emerge. I’m uncomfortable with our culture’s current emphasis on happiness as an end in itself. Kelly’s central premise that we are created for happiness sets alarm bells ringing. It might have helped if Kelly defined what he means by happiness.

We are created to know, love and serve God and our fellow human beings in accordance with God’s word. We strive to discern God’s will continuously for our lives and use the gifts and talents God has given us in service to others.

I see happiness as being a natural by-product of these activities, but happiness can be fleeting and circumstantial. Happiness is not a consistently reliable barometer of whether or not we are acting in God’s will or becoming better versions of ourselves.

Perhaps we should be seeking more solid or deeper ways of being. St. Paul gives the Galatians a list of fruits of the Spirit which include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and self-control. Happiness is not on the list. Maybe because happiness on its own doesn’t stand the test of time.

St. Paul was joyful, but not necessarily happy, when he was languishing in prison. Jesus taught His disciples how to “fish for people” and many other things, but not specifically how to be personally happy.

Kelly’s contention that God is happiness brings to mind televangelists preaching their prosperity Gospel. God is so much more than happiness. We have to be careful not to view God as a Dutch uncle, there to serve our happiness needs.

Theology aside, Kelly’s book is a useful guide to how to lead a passionate, dynamic, biblically-sound life that, indeed, does bring happiness. It is an inspiring work that motivates me to become a better version of myself because that’s what God expects of me and that is what I seek for myself.

Putting a name — resistance — to that vague, sluggish feeling is helpful for me. As Kelly wisely notes, “Things that we cannot name tend to build in mystery and become dangerous.” Once named, that thing loses some of its power over us.

If I should become happy in the process of slaying resistance, then that for me will be the proverbial icing on the cake.

Resisting Happiness, Matthew Kelly (Beacon Publishing, 167 pages, $8.42 on Kindle at Amazon.ca).

(Majtenyi is a writer from St. Catharines, Ont.)

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