better than sex

Nov 14, 2012

A recent Canterbury University study invited 173 people to rank 30 common activities according to “what makes you happiest?”

I haven’t seen the complete survey, but the news summary this weekwas enough to spark my interest. It seems that while Facebook ranked lowest as a provider of meaning and happiness in life, sex came out tops.

The abbreviated online opinion poll accompanying the news story asks readers to rank just five activities: sex, partying, playing sport, working, being with my kids.

This limited choice got me to thinking about meaning in life. Where can happiness be found?

Yesterday I read of 52 year old man who, just before his death fromcancer recently, admitted that his dedication to his work was “not worth it.”  Now, too late, he had significant regret. His successful career had not given him the happiness he sought.

One of the most sinister errors in human thinking is the idea that the things we do can deliver the happiness we seek.  It is just as misleading to think that human friendship and love (albeit God’s greatest gifts to us) are enough to satiate our human desires. 

At best, human relationships, enjoyable experiences and rewarding pastimes give us only a momentary taste of a deeper human desire that cries out for something more deeply satisfying and lasting. 

A moment of reflection on our own experience will speak the truth of this reality.

Perhaps the one who was my intimate friend just a few years ago, is now but a distant, even painful memory? The vacation that I saved for with eager anticipation a few months past, is now relegated to a photo-file, and I am already counting the sleeps until the next adventure.

The (Anglican) Archbishop of Canterbury spoke about this last monthto Pope Benedict and the Catholic Synod of Bishops in Rome. He too referred to St. Augustine when he reflected that human life is a process of becoming 

“more free to love human beings in a human way, to love them not for what they may promise me, to love them not as if they were there to provide me with lasting safety and comfort, but as fragile fellow creatures held together in the love of God. I discover how to see other persons and things for what they are in relation to God, not to me. And it is here that true justice as well as true love has its roots.”

The deep happiness and meaning that humans yearn for is not a human achievement. Instead it is the fruit of secure self-identity.  This stability comes with acceptance of the fact that we have not created ourselves. Our very existence as loved unique beings is a divine gift sustained by every gifted heartbeat.

If we rely on our work to give us self-esteem, we too easily fall victim to the moods of employers in a fickle financial environment.

When I look to the people I love to provide my life with meaning and satisfaction, then I threaten to suffocate these relationships with the (albeit unconscious) demands I make on these friends and family.

My life as a Catholic priest calls me to a number of people who are terminally ill, or who are elderly and reflectively looking back over their lives.  I have never met anyone who at this stage of life wishes that they had worked harder, had fewer children, prayed less, sinned more, held grudges longer, retaliated more, relaxed less, been less generous, had more possessions…

However, (and this is a pretty big pause for thought), I often meet people who, when looking back over their life, wish they had worked less, had more children, prayed more, sinned less, let go of grudges more quickly and retaliated less, relaxed more, been more generous…

And, I while I have met a number of people of all ages who look back at their sexual history with regret, I have never heard anyone seriously wish that they had been more promiscuous.


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