A Pagan Perspective on Finding Happiness
Morgan Daimler Feb 11, 2014
What makes you happy? One thing that religion often does for people, or gives people, is an idea of what should create or nurture happiness. In the Norse there is the Havamal, a collection of wisdom sayings attributed to the God Odin which outlines advice for right living. This includes the core idea, I believe, that happiness is found in appreciating what we have and doing the things we can within our circumstances. We see this in verses such as:
“36. Better a house, though a hut it be, A man is master at home; A pair of goats and a patched-up roof Are better far than begging.” (Bellows translation)
And: “70. It is better to live than to lie a corpse, The live man catches the cow; I saw flames rise for the rich man’s pyre, And before his door he lay dead.
71. The lame rides a horse, the handless is herdsman, The deaf in battle is bold; The blind man is better than one that is burned, No good can come of a corpse.” (Bellows translation)
Similarly in the Irish we see wisdom texts like The Instructions of King Cormac Mac Art and The Testament of Morann which suggest the ideas that happiness is supported by right living and moderation. Both cultures seem to share the idea that being happy isn’t about what you have – whether possessions or skills – but about making the most of what you have. This is an idea that is very much at odds with our modern American consumer culture and it can be hard to reconcile the two. How do we find a sense of happiness with what we have when we are constantly assailed by messages telling us we should want more and better? How do we feel happy about our skills and abilities when we are constantly surrounded by images of perfection?
In the end our spirituality should support us in finding happiness by nurturing our sense of satisfaction with what we have against the wave of cultural pressure. While both the Irish and Norse also encourage ambition and striving for excellence, we should never lose sight of the happiness to be found in our current circumstances. As the Havamal says, better a small house than no house at all; better living than dead. No matter how difficult or stressful our life may be there is happiness to be found in it as well, even if only in small moments and little pleasures.
So as you go through your day, ask yourself, what makes you happy? Do you value it enough, or do you take it for granted?
2 Responses to “A Pagan perspective on finding happiness”
Mike the Heathen Feb 12, 2014
Was recently informed that I failed to advance to the final round of candidates for a promising job opening. The news was crushing, especially since I felt that I had done very well in the interview and was an excellent fit for the position. Also, financially speaking, unemployment compensation has long since run out and new employment is urgently needed.
Yet I awoke the next morning with a smile on my face. I’m grateful for the interview experience gained (all interviews are great practice for the one that eventually lands you a job), grateful for the revelation of resume shortcomings (time to update and expand my social media skills), and even grateful for the blunt fact that my best suit has become uncomfortably tight and no longer fits well… which inescapably informs me that I am NOT making a good physical impression and it is high time to get serious about getting healthy.
In the past, I would have easily slipped into a “woe is me” victim mentality. But my faith has given me the perspective that these circumstances are entirely of my own making… both in deeds done (eating too much comfort food; watching too much TV) and in deeds left undone (not exercising enough; not exploring Twitter, Instagram, etc.). If I want better future outcomes then that is entirely up to me.
So I agree with your analysis. Happiness is a natural result of an ongoing process… making good decisions and acting upon them again and again over time. Meanwhile, it certainly helps to laugh at my own foolishness and to be deeply and daily appreciative of those who love me despite my myriad flaws.
Ann Marie Somma Feb 12, 2014
Thanks for sharing your story, Mike. Hang in there. Things will change. In the meantime, hold on to what Morgan wrote: “better a small house than no house at all; better living than dead.”.