Don’t Trust Happiness

“Joy is the happiness that does not depend on what happens.” -Brother David Steindl-rast

“Joy for humans lies in human actions. Human actions: Kindness to others, contempt for the senses, the interrogation of appearances, observations of nature and events in nature.” -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

In the film Tender Mercies (one of my all-time favorites), Robert Duvall plays Mac Sledge, a down and out country singer who seeks redemption for past mistakes. He meets a young widow, Rosa Lee (played by Tess Harper), and her young boy Sonny (Allen Hubbard). Rosa’s “tender mercies” and love and affection give Mac a second chance. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s a must watch. Duvall’s at the top of his game (deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Actor) as is the rest of the cast. Playwright Horton Foote wrote the screenplay, the music is fantastic (Betty Buckley can absolutely belt out a tune) and the cinematography of Texas is stunningly beautiful.

There’s one scene in particular that gets me every time. I won’t say anything about it so as not to spoil the film, but Mac says to Rosa:

“I don’t trust happiness. Never did. Never will.”

The Stoics would agree. Happiness is a feeling. It’s fleeting at best and entirely dependent on external conditions going your way. How can you trust that?

Instead, we should seek and cultivate joy. For ourselves and others. Joy lasts even when happiness departs. Joy is within our control. It’s an action. Something we do and hold. It’s a continual process of viewing the world through an equananimous lens. Joy is not dependent on feelings to maintain. It lies within.

For all these reasons, we can trust it.

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