This is a guest post from Marina Abdel Malak - a FrAnthony.com favorite when it comes to guest posts. In her previous posts, Marina spoke about her battle with ANOREXIA NERVOSA and how God got her through that tough time. Thanks to God, Marina has overcome her illness and therefore has become an inspiration to many people (including me!). That's why I love Marina's guest posts - they always shine a ray of hope into my day, regardless of the circumstances. You can follow Marina on her blog. And if you too are interested in guest posting on my blog, please visit my Guest Post guidelines for more info.
Happiness. Everyone wants it. Many people define happiness in a certain way, claiming that they have the ‘secret to happiness’. The dictionary defines ‘being happy’ as ‘feeling or showing pleasure or contentment’.
In today’s world, it is becoming more and more difficult to define what happiness is. Personally, I've struggled with defining the concept of happiness. I don't remember anyone ever teaching me what 'happy' meant.
But as a little girl, I felt happy. I was satisfied with my life and I felt at peace. Looking back now, I wonder how I could have been happy. My family was not well-off, and we didn't have much. I wore my sister’s hand-me-downs, and I didn't own any toys. My family never went on vacations, and we didn't eat out at restaurants.
Yet, as a small child, I didn't feel as though I was missing out on anything. I made use of what I did have - a loving family and a wonderful church community. I had clothes to keep me warm, and even the hand-me-downs felt new to me!
When I was a little girl, happiness was simple: it was the state of being content with what little I had, and being thankful for what God blessed me with. It was being pleased and overjoyed with the little things in life. It was trusting that God would provide for me, despite not having enough money to buy everyday needs. Happiness was being with my family and going to church. It never occurred to me that I should be sad or angry because my family didn't have enough money to purchase our daily needs, let alone any 'extras'.
But as I grew up, things changed. My circumstances didn’t change; but my understanding of happiness did.
All around me, others began defining happiness in various ways. TV commercials told me that happiness was being thin and having flawless skin. Movies told me that happiness was finding 'true love' and getting a 'true love's kiss'. Friends told me that happiness was having the latest iPhone and going to the club on Friday nights. My job told me that happiness was making the 'big bucks' at work.
All around me, the definition of happiness was changing – and I was left feeling very confused. What did I have to do to achieve happiness???
Throughout my teen years, I tried making myself happy. I dieted and lost weight – only to get sick and end up in the ICU. I tried focusing on finding 'love' – only to realize that society’s definition of love was a lot different from what I wanted for myself. I tried buying the latest technologies, only to learn that my new phone was now considered ‘old’. I maintained a high average in school, only to discover that there were people who were smarter and more successful than I was.
But despite all of that, I still at times felt happy. But soon, the temporary feelings of 'happiness’ disappeared. They were replaced by feelings of void and emptiness. I tried finding happiness according to the world’s definition. So why then wasn't I happy?
It was only after I suffered in the hospital that I realized why I wasn't happy. In the ICU, I felt myself dying. I saw my parents crying and suffering as my organs failed, one by one. I saw my sister struggling to smile for me, even as she knew on the inside that I would soon pass away. I felt sad, tired, and fed up with life.
Why was I in the ICU? Yes, partly because I had an eating disorder - a deadly mental illness. And although eating disorders arise from multiple factors, one factor was the desire to be thin...so that I would be thin, fit in with others, find love…and ultimately, be ‘happy’.
But being in the ICU – unable to speak or move or barely even breathe – it dawned on me (kind of like the scene in the Grinch movie, “Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means something more…”): happiness doesn’t come from material things. It doesn’t come from money, toys, clothes, or even others. Happiness comes from God.
I allowed the world to tell me what happiness is, and I neglected God. In my search for happiness, I forgot that only God can give true happiness…or better yet…JOY! Yes, life’s pleasures can give us temporary happiness, but without God, we can never truly be satisfied.
In my darkest days in the ICU, I felt God with me. When all the nurses said that I was going to die, God gave me inner peace with every prayer I lifted. I was still dying. But there was something about prayer that made everything easier to handle. Speaking to God allowed me to reflect on my life thus far and realize that true happiness comes from Him alone. We can never be satisfied from things in this world because we aren't made for this world. We are made for Christ.
As St. Augustine said, ‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You”.
Does this mean that you should never buy clothes or phones, give up your job, and isolate yourself? No. That's not what God wants either. It's okay to buy gifts, have fun, and pamper ourselves. But we need to find a balance. We need to remember that the things in this world aren't going to give us eternal satisfaction like Christ does.
Now, when I think about it, I am truly happy. I found God again, and I am building a relationship with Him. I'm still enjoying myself too - but now, I realize that material things don't give us peace as Christ does. I now know that that empty space inside my heart can only be filled with God. I can see now that the world will try to convince me that happiness can't be found without money, sex, or fame – and I know that this is wrong. I see that happiness comes from the simple things in life - family, good friends, church, prayer, and Christ.
'Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice!’ (Philippians 4:4).
For discussion: Reflect on your own thoughts about happiness. What does ‘being happy’ mean to YOU?