So, the Westboro guy is dying, and his tragic passing into whatever comes next got me thinking about happiness, of all things. (Yes, I meant to say “tragic.” I find Fred Phelps to be a pitiful creature, an absolutely tragic figure. Certainly, there aren’t many deaths more tragic or lonely than his: few, if any, mourn his loss, and his life is largely viewed as a lesson in what becomes of an existence that revolves around hate.)
He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he. -Proverbs 14:21
Lots of people are going to be...happy…when this man dies. That is a thought so tragic to me, I can hardly type it. Fred Phelps, in my opinion, is the book definition of misery. I can think of no more completely thorough way to waste one’s life than to only be able to make other people happy as a result of your death.
How important is happiness to you? I could be wrong, but I doubt Fred ranked being happy very highly on his to-do list. Solomon, however, generally regarded as a fairly bright guy, seemed to bring it up a lot:
Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. -Proverbs 3:13
If I were to define happiness, I’d use words like “pleasure”, “contentment”, or “joy”. Personally, for me, finding happiness then also means finding peace, and purpose, and passion. It includes contentment, achievement, exploration, learning, generosity, gratitude, adventure, and making some sort of mark on this world that doesn’t turn out to be a scar.
Happiness, then, is pretty damn important. Some misguided “righteous” folks have turned it into a bad word: happiness is self-serving and shallow and not at all Holy. (I remember so often hearing and even teaching this phrase: “You should seek joy, not happiness.”) For some odd reason, I think there’s some sort of misconception about happiness among some folks, as though the bliss that comes from a belly laugh or a good bite of steak or a great kiss is some sort of worthless thin surface-level fleeting feeling which should be avoided.
Happiness is a state of mind, like its opposite, misery, in which people move and breathe in this world, often bumping into others. It matters what sort of sky one walks under: evils lurk in dark places, and nowhere is it darker than a cold unhappy heart. There is also a misconception that happiness is simply a thin bright emotional quilt used to cover misery, and nothing could be further from the truth. Happiness erases misery, like light erases the darkness.
Both states are tools to be used: we can make ourselves better people and or world a better place motivated both by our pleasure and our sorrows, but be warned: the opposite is true, too. Happiness is just as dangerous a hammer as misery when wielded poorly, as Chris Farley’s tragic end shows. (Chris’ last words, the most tragic I’ve ever read, were, “Don’t leave me,” spoken to a prostitute as she left his room the night of his death.)
As I pondered Fred’s unhappy life, and Chris’s misguided attempts to find true happiness, Mary’s song kept playing in my mind:
There is joy in simple things, in placing great value in, as Gus said, “the little everyday things, like a soft bed, a glass of buttermilk, and feisty gentlemen.” So, my friends, seek out happiness in the every day, and in the pursuit of your big dreams. Chase after it relentlessly, grab the hands of your loved ones and help them find theirs, too, and in so doing, ends like Fred’s and Chris’s will become rarities.
And that would be something we could all be happy about.