by Robert Richie
Today, the number of Americans who suffer from depression, anxiety and despair is growing. The organization Mental Health America reports that:
Depression is a chronic illness that exacts a significant toll on America's health and productivity. It affects more than 21 million American children and adults annually and is the leading cause of disability in the United States for individuals ages 15 to 44.
Lost productive time among U.S. workers due to depression is estimated to be in excess of $31 billion per year. Depression frequently co-occurs with a variety of medical illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and chronic pain and is associated with poorer health status and prognosis. It is also the principal cause of the 30,000 suicides in the U.S. each year. In 2004, suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, third among individuals 15-24.
Moreover, there is the self inflicted pain that comes from failed suicide attempts. Some experts say that the state of mind of a person who has experienced a failed suicide attempt is even worse than before.
The skyrocketing depression and suicide troubles in America stem from the same, common root: a great unhappiness and a basic, fundamental misunderstanding about what happiness is and where we can find it on this earth.
As Catholics, we know that we can never be completely happy on this earth. That complete happiness is only reserved for those who go to Heaven to be with God for all eternity. While on earth, humans are happy to the degree they accept and carry out God’s Holy Will in their lives.
However, since the problem of happiness and unhappiness is getting more acute today, we ought to delve deeper into finding the solutions that lead to happiness, and to offer people a Catholic and comprehensive explanation on this crucial issue.
For this purpose, we offer an insightful piece written by the French priest, Father Henri Ramiere, which is taken from his book The Reign of Christ in History.
Going Deeper: The Search for True & False Happiness
Before leaving this topic, it is still necessary to delve a little deeper into the depths of our nature so as to discover the reason for support or resistance that it would offer to divine action in the different stages of its moral life.
The inclinations that drag the human will are very different and opposed, but have a common source. The movements that lead us to good and those that lead us to bad, the most reprehensible disorders and the most heroic virtues have the same motive, a desire for happiness.
We all want – and necessarily so – to be happy. If this happiness could be present and complete at the same time, we would not hesitate at all to choose it. We would rush to it simply for its pleasure with all the impetus of our will.
But it is not so, and in this is our trial. God, the sole entire and infinite good, hides and denies us at present the pleasure of His beauty; forbids us a love so filled with pleasure that we would be able to find in creatures. And that’s where men divide themselves.
They let themselves be taken by the same desire for happiness but towards opposite directions: some want to satisfy that desire in the present life at any price, revolted against God, who denies them this satisfaction. Others accept the time in which God deigns to satisfy them.
Here is the point of separation between two inimical societies that St. Augustine called “the City of God” and “the City of the sons of men.” The former is composed of those who want to be happy with God and the latter by those who pretend to be happy without God and in spite of God.
The former’s motto is “love of God even at the scorn of oneself” while the latter’s motto is “love of oneself even at the scorn of God.” But it is not only in one act that the majority of men take a definitive stand in either of these societies.
Normally, a man begins to act well or badly according to the way he is brought up. Obliged to receive from outside the greater part of his knowledge, he receives his inclinations from it as well. It would be, therefore, either good or bad depending on the influences he receives; and following them, he will look for his happiness in the service of God or in violation of his laws.
While receiving outside influences with docility, he will not be able to settle firmly either in the good or in the bad. That settling will only come from the fight. If his upbringing made him good, the fight will come from the attraction to evil; from the awakening of his passions; from the present pleasures whose allures he feels; from the immediate satisfaction that the thirst for happiness will exert upon him. It would seem fascinating to him to be the master of his own destiny and not depend on any superior authority.
If, on the contrary, man was taken to evilness prior to knowing the disorder it causes, the bitter consequences of such disorder will soon be felt. Virtue, in turn, will present its charms; and true happiness will put forward its solid hopes against the illusions of false happiness. In the two situations, there will be a fight and this fight will last for a long time through a succession of defeats and victories, attained now by the good, now by the bad.
To whom will definitive victory go? Only freedom will decide. But this is what happens many times: a man who lets himself be swept away by the most shameful disorder through a poorly understood desire for happiness; who is convinced by his experience of the impossible satisfaction of such a desire far removed from God; and who is crushed by shame and remorse; turns to the sovereign good and unites himself with it with as much strength as was his deplorable falling away from God.
We can therefore distinguish three periods in the moral life of man that correspond to the three primary ages of his physical life. The age of infancy, one of docile ingenuity and little self-consciousness; the age of youth, one of passions and fight; and the age of maturity, one of disappointments and fully deliberate resolutions.
In all these ages, man is either free to unite himself with God or to revolt against Him, but his freedom attains fullness only in maturity, which is the age wherein God has the most influence on human souls and in which He oftentimes redirects towards Himself those who did not shun very sad transgressions in their youth.
But, while the trial endures, be it in infancy, be it in youth, be it in maturity, God always has a great influence over hearts, even among those that have fallen farthest away from Him. The reason for this influence is the same that takes hearts away from Him: a desire for happiness.
There exists, therefore, between men and God, a great misunderstanding, for the happiness which they want can only be obtained with the help of God. Provoking and maintaining this misunderstanding is the constant objective of Satan and his agents. Overcoming it is the priority of the indefatigable efforts of God and his friends.
The Word of God, upon descending on Earth, had no other objective than to gather in his heart and place within men’s reach all the goods they were unsuccessfully seeking for many centuries. After the Holy Redeemer ascended into Heaven, the Church did nothing but encourage successive generations to go drink from that divine source.
In the preceding chapters, we studied the divine plan in relation to God. We have just finished considering it in relation to men, and will now go on to study it in society and in the ensemble of creation.
Note:*The second part of this article is taken from the book The Reign of Jesus Christ in History by Father Henri Ramiere.