I’m not one to make new year’s resolutions, but because my calendar now says 2010 I can’t help but think a little about them.
I just finished a review of Christopher Jamison’s fine book Finding Happiness, which is perfect for those of a resolution frame of mind. Written by a Benedictine abbot (of Worth Abbey, in Sussex), the book looks at the development of the philosophy of happiness in the West, from the Greeks into the monastic period of the Church, focusing on the Eight Thoughts (acedia, gluttony, lust, greed, anger, sadness, vanity, and pride) which get in the way of happiness. Remove the eight thoughts, he suggested, following the 4th century monk John Cassian, and you remove what makes you unhappy.
As a historical note, when Ignatius wrote the Spiritual Exercises he was using a tradition that was already long established in monastic history, so what Jamison has to say about happiness is very much in the same vein as what Ignatius was aiming for. The idea is common in the Church Fathers and Mothers, Aquinas and the scholastics, and Ignatius: remove sin so that God’s grace may work in your life. That’s happiness. (Not necessarily pleasure–they all followed Aristotle on this point, that pleasure is passing but happiness is a way of being at work in the world. Pleasure is fine, but it comes and goes.)
So if you’re looking for a new year’s resolution, how about three suggestions?
1. Read Jamison’s book.
2. Introduce some daily devotion/prayer that helps you discern more clearly what the good work in the world God is calling you to.
3. Identify one of the eight thoughts that keep you from living more fully in God’s grace. Pray and work to remove that thought.