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No Free Lunch

Happiness and family

/ 05:18 AM December 25, 2018

“Money can’t buy you happiness — but it sure helps!” goes a humorous takeoff on the familiar maxim that we’ve all heard said many times.

Today, we would have all already heard and said the greeting “Merry Christmas!” countless times since the season began, and it’s really all about wishing happiness in this season for celebration in the Christian world. For a young child (and maybe for many of us not so young), happiness could be as simple as receiving many Christmas presents and deriving joy, no matter how fleeting, from the material objects that these gifts are. For the not so young, it may be less the object and more the gesture — and one’s relationship with the giver making the gesture — that gives a more profound joy than the gift itself can give.

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“It’s the thought that counts,” we often say, and many of us indeed end up with gifts we don’t want and will never use — yet that need not diminish our happiness in this season of gift-giving. And then there’s the joy in the act of giving itself. “It is better to give than to receive” is a maxim I first heard from one of my primary schoolteachers, at a tender young age when I wasn’t so sure I believed it — something that also takes greater maturity to understand and live out.

That money can’t buy ultimate happiness shouldn’t be hard for anyone to see. Happiness, after all, is not all about what we have. I read somewhere about the three Ps masquerading as sources of happiness: possessions, power and pleasure. But numerous writings point out that it’s relationships — with other people, and with our God—that ultimately spell how happy or unhappy we are. The three Ps are illusory, and transitory.

I experienced the truth in this 15 years ago, when my wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary in a retreat haven called Puso ng Carmelo in the hills of Damortis, La Union. It was devoid of the trappings of modern living, including electric power and running water. Far from any municipal water system, water is brought from a nearby spring with a creative conveyor system. The setup is simple and spartan by design and deliberate choice by the small group of Carmelite sisters who established it, with simple structures built of natural materials, perched atop a hill with a spectacular view of the mountain and the sea.

I marveled at how these women managed to demonstrate how one could find joy and fulfillment with a minimum of material wealth. “Rarely in my life have I felt as much joy and peace, as our brief stay in this wonderful place has given me,” I gushed in my column back then, which I wrote there by the light of a kerosene lamp. “Here, I am convinced that true happiness is within everyone’s reach. We simply need to strip ourselves of the man-made objects that mislead us to look elsewhere for that happiness — when it is to be found all around us, and right here within our very hearts.” In living such simple lives, these nuns had similarly inspired those in their nearby communities to find joy in what little they appeared to have.

When asked what makes me happiest, my unflinching response has always been, when I am enjoying the company of my family. When asked what the happiest moment in my life was, I look back to a time many years ago when I had my wife and five children, then still young, packed into a rented van as I drove them through the highways while on a rare family vacation overseas. I mildly complained then that I was their driver, baggage carrier and bills payer all rolled into one—and yet my joy was complete.

Many of us, myself included, find ourselves immersed in our work so much, as if that’s what life is all about. Many of us indeed find fulfillment in our work, especially if it ultimately helps many others uplift their own lives, and not just a way to earn an income and boost our material wealth. But what got me to realize that, in the end, our happiness lies in our relationships, especially in our own families, was having read a statement that has stuck with me since: “No one at his/her deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.’”

Christmas is for families. May you thoroughly enjoy it with yours!

[email protected]

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TAGS: Cielito F. Habito, Family, happiness, No Free Lunch
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