‘Having’ gets in the way of our happiness

Bill Scholl is the archdiocesan consultant for social justice. You can email him at: socialjustice@archkck.org.
Bill Scholl is the archdiocesan consultant for social justice. You can email him at: socialjustice@archkck.org.

by Bill Scholl

Most of us put our bucket list on the wrong side of the bucket, and I learned that when I had a minor midlife crisis.

This crisis was precipitated by my family’s need for transportation. My wife suggested we buy a new car. So, I searched for a practical car, but soon found myself scheming for a sports car.

I became obsessed and was even thinking of getting a used eight-cylinder Mustang, despite our agreement to go with a new car with good gas mileage. In our deliberations, my wife was sweet but firm. I realized I had to let this silly little dream go.

Here’s how I moved on — and it was really pretty easy. I told myself, “If you can just focus on getting into heaven, if you still want that car when you get there, you can have it. In fact, you can have a better car.”

Boom! Just like that I was able to let it go and get on with my husband/ father vocation, focusing on the needs of my family.

In hindsight, my fixation was not surprising. We live in a consumerist ecosystem of commercial culture, daily bombarded with the message: “Happiness is having.”

However, this Madison Avenue mantra contradicts an underlying Gospel message: “Happiness is being.” Indeed, Our Lord goes so far as to suggest that having gets in the way of happiness, because we attach ourselves to things instead of God. You can swim in the mainstream media for a long time and you will never be told you are blessed through weeping, poverty, persecution, mercy, or meekness (see the Beatitudes, found in Mt 5:3-11).

St. Augustine taught, “This world is to be used and not enjoyed.” He did not mean that we are to be miserable, just that we are to judge all things on earth by how we can use them to get to heaven. C.S. Lewis summed it up well in “Mere Christianity:” “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’; aim at Earth and you get neither.”

All human desire is fulfilled in our communion with the divine, even my desire for a sports car. Now I know if I achieve my purpose in life, which is to be resurrected and with Christ in the next, that I will probably no longer want that car because I will have so much better. As a child, I resolved to eat bubble gum way more than I actually do now, but I can still have it whenever I want. By this divine delay of gratification, I never need to feel bad for not having, for I will have more than I can possibly dream of. The bucket list is beyond fulfilled in the beyond if I can just have Christ.

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