When I was younger, I was taught that happiness – true happiness – could only be found in contemplation of the Christian deity. Without it, nothing is truly good in life. Happiness is not real unless the invisible is associated with it.
It got taught to me in different ways. Worldly pleasures (i.e., things normal people do for fun) are simply temptations to be lax in faith. Being content is spiritual stagnation. Beauty literally is nothing without tacking “because god” onto it.
The line of reasoning I gleaned from all of that? Without my deity, I have to be on the lookout for feeling too happy on my own. I can’t just enjoy a quiet afternoon, or a beautiful sunrise, or experiencing something new for the first time. There will always be that part of me that looks to spoil the moment because, if I’m too happy about something, then this invisible monster is going to make me suffer for it.
I don’t like admitting this. But this ominous sense of lurking malevolence is something I’ve had for as long as I can remember. The difference now is that I don’t have a religion to tell me it makes sense. So I just rob myself of good things all on my own. I can do this without even thinking about it.
This is one example of something I have to unlearn from my religious upbringing.
I have to become used to the idea that there is no cosmic force that will steal goodness or happiness from me when I’m not looking. It seems like it should be obvious. After all, people outside Christianity talk about happiness all the time. It’s not like Christian cultures have a word for “happy” that needs to get described to outside places.
Logic doesn’t always compete with automatic responses. Sure, I can eventually talk myself out of a nasty self-inflicted bout of pessimism. What I’m dreading is the whole process of wrestling with it. It’s like learning to play a difficult sport at an age when I shouldn’t be playing it.
Something I can do is tell other people that they can be happy without faith.
Even if I am unable to unlearn what’s been hammered into my head, I do like to put a positive viewpoint out there for other people to learn from my misfortune. That is, if you’re in church and someone’s telling you nothing make sense without Jesus, that person isn’t right. People can find joy and contentment in all sorts of things without resorting to sin or salvation.
A beautiful sunrise is ephemeral, a thing which exists once at any point in time. Realizing this is due to the wisdom of the beholder, not due to some guiding cosmic overlord. Indeed, not everybody likes sunrises or sunsets or the laughter of children. People find joy and happiness in different things. We know this because people sometimes talk about it, or write about it, and in doing so tell the world about it.
Even if I rob myself of happiness at times, I’m finding solace in believing the happiness of others. Their happiness is a source of comfort to me. With every expression of contentment absent what I was taught to expect, I am able to affirm in a growing voice, “This is good enough for me too.”