Love Does Not Always Feel Good
My world fell like a house of cards when I realized I was not happy. “Me? Not happy?” I thought. How could I be suffering so much when I had friends, lived a rather privileged life, and had experiences under my belt that some could only dream of? This was it – I was living my best life. In January, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and then shortly after, depression. My life felt pointless, like I was a cog in a machine destined to be lauded for my economic production. It took months of soul searching, therapy, and lifestyle change for me to crawl out of this rut, but I can say now that I am a better, more fulfilled person for it. I hope to show you two things I learned along the way.
- We need both love and happiness in our lives
It is obvious to anyone who has ever graced the earth that happiness and love define our experience here on earth. The two are intimately connected, and play off one another to help form our interior and communal experiences. But did you know that our language has grouped many different shades of both love and happiness under those two words.
Ancient Greek is an incredibly insightful language, especially when it comes to love. Some sources say that the Ancient Greeks had four words to identify different kinds of love, whereas other sources state there were eight. Essentially, the most basic love (eros) is erotic or sexually charged. More noble kinds of love (such as philia describing the non-sexual yet affectionate love between friends, and storge, which is the love one sees between a parent as a child) follow, but there is one kind of love that is crowned as the highest form: agape love. Agape love is unconditional. It is the core of charity and means “to will the good of the other”. This kind of love transcends emotion, and inspires loving the enemy, seeking to love the person in light of rejection or a potential negative response, and exposing oneself to discomfort for the sake of another’s benefit or good (we will circle back to this one later – keep it in mind).
We want and need the love our parents are supposed to give us as we grow, or the love we get in the embrace of a good friend. We also need inner compassion for ourselves and for others. I know that I would be in a very different place if I did not have the love of my family and friends, both old and ones I met on the way, as I journeyed through one of the most difficult times of my life.
The Magis Center, a group that seeks to lead people to happiness and love reference another language for help, this time citing the four Latin terms for happiness. The lowest level, laetus, is happiness coming from pleasure. Levels two and three, felix and betitudo, correspond to ego gratification and helping others, respectively. But nothing fulfills us like the highest level of love, which is perfect, eternal, and truly fulfilling Sublime Beatitudo.
As my eyes opened to how I was living and how incongruent my lifestyle was with my values, I had to look at where I was trying to find happiness. I found that yes I did have pleasure (laetus), be it from food or baths or whichever things might stimulate my senses. I also had felix, that kind of ego boosted happiness that came from being a competitive high achiever and seeing myself as “better” than others at different things. When it came to wanting the good of others, I found that yes I was generally a “good person”, but I could have been so much better. I spent too much time and energy on myself to meaningfully impact those that might have needed my help. Lastly, I looked at if I had any eternal love in my life. Essentially, bar prayers before a meal or bedtime, I was devoid of fulfilling love. I was choosing pleasure over true happiness.
My discovery that my own happiness was rather superficial was alarming to say the least. The saddest thing for me, though, is that I am not unique in this. I had a pretty common lifestyle that most of my peers lead as well. At the very least, though, I understood I could choose if I wanted to continue my old habits or change my own life for the better. I knew I could not live the way I was for the rest of my life; I wanted so much more. So, I started cleaning up my life.
My parents and I agreed it would be best to start therapy, as my anxiety and depression got pretty bad from November to January, so in February of 2021, I started therapy. I finished my second therapeutic program in May. Therapy helped me understand my emotional responses in the context of my own history and respond to them in a healthy and productive manner. I am so grateful for the self compassion I learned in my group and individual sessions. You see, therapy is helpful for rectifying emotional responses when they are extreme or off. Therapy is not there to make you feel good or validate the fact that you do not need to change your life, but rather therapy is supposed to empower you to make those difficult changes that make a lasting difference. But therapy was not enough. I knew I needed to find God.
I started going to church. I would often be the only teenager in the pews. I would also read a lot. I started to ask questions. Why is hookup culture so bad for the soul? Why is materialism a block to true happiness? Why not binge drink? What is the Truth? Is there any truth? Where does happiness come from? I will save the answers to those questions for another time, except for the last one. I found happiness in God, and have come to experience and be nourished by His graces through the sacraments of the Catholic Church. Though I found renewal through God and believe in His existence, it does not take a Christian to show that happiness has many levels to it, some self-serving and fleeting, others self-giving and transcending time itself.
- Our world has warped the idea of love and happiness, and where (or when) we find them
You may have read how I described sublime beatitudo and thought to yourself that this idea of a transcendental love is wishful thinking at best, but I can assure you the problem is not the idea, but the lens through which we have been conditioned by our culture to see when we seek to identify happiness. Spend one day just looking at the things we value most in our culture, and you will quickly see how rampant materialism is. This is because we seek to fill the void within ourselves with things, believing that I will be happy when I get this new car or I will feel fulfilled when I get into college. The sad thing is we have been chasing happiness and love as if the highest levels exist only in the future. It breaks my heart to see even people close to me looking for fulfillment in sex, drinking, material goods, or social clout. Each one has its function, time, and place, but not only are these things not totally fulfilling, they can quickly become disordered and harmful.
The solution to this is cultural and will not happen overnight. The acts of agape love (charity) that are needed to reorder our society will be met with strong disdain because many associate the gentle agape (unconditional) love of correction with hatred and intolerance. We are actively called to lovingly tell our family and friends when they have a problem, be it with evil substance or experience, and to help them find good, healthy, and spiritually nourishing alternatives. Unfortunately, the allure of inferior goods calls many away from the pursuit of good, love, and happiness, and few remain that continue to search. However, a single taste of sublime beatitudo happiness will be enough to confirm that it is what makes you whole, and I want every single person, especially other teenagers and young adults, to experience the peace and fulfillment that can come from no earthly thing.
The Gospel of John quotes Jesus saying “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (John 15:16). We are all invited and called to experience the happiness and love with which God wishes to lavish us, but we have to choose to pursue it over the pleasures of this world. I call you to look at your own life, open your heart to finding the Truth, and pursuing it, regardless of what our culture esteems.
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