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Pope Francis’ instruction manual for happiness


Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 06/15/23

In the fall, Pope Francis published a book on how to be happy. Aleteia selects 10 of the best pieces of advice out of the eight chapters.

In November 2022, Pope Francis published a book titled “I want you to be happy: The hundredfold in this life,” (“Ti voglio felice. Il centuplo in questa vita,” Pienogiorno). The book is only available in Italian for now but it gathers the main thoughts and ideas that Pope Francis has expressed throughout his pontificate on how people can live happier lives by renewing and living out their faith.

Aleteia selects the best pieces of advice out of the eight chapters that make up the book! 

1Be holy by being free!

“Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality, or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self,” the Pope explains in a section of the book’s first chapter, titled “happiness is a gift received.”

The Pontiff underlines that in order to be holy we must be free from the things that enslave us in our lives. 

“So many times we think of holiness as an extraordinary thing, like having visions or very high prayers. […] Instead, being holy is something else: It is walking toward holiness, walking toward that light, that grace that comes to us. […] But to walk like that, it is necessary to be free and to feel free, and instead there are so many things that enslave us.” 

2Set your GPS to a great destination: upwards!

The Pope encourages us to have great ambitions and not get bogged down in the issues of this world, because “God never ceases to have confidence in you, not for a second,” so neither should you. You may “ask yourself: Why do I need to go out of my way for what other people do not believe in? Or again: How can I ‘soar’ in a world that seems constantly to be dragged down by scandals, wars, fraud, injustice, environmental destruction, indifference towards those in need, disillusionment from those who should be giving an example? Faced with these questions, what is the answer?” 

“You are the answer. You, my brother, you my sister,” the Pontiff encourages.

“Friends, you were not made ‘to get by,’ to spend your days balancing duties and pleasures; you were made to soar upwards. […] You will realize this when you look up at the sky as you pray, and especially when you contemplate Him on the cross. You will come to realize that Jesus, from the cross, never points his finger at you; He embraces you and encourages you, because He believes in you even at those times when you stop believing in yourself. […] Set the GPS of your lives on a great destination: upwards!”

3Go against the current but not against other people

In a world where political, social, cultural, and economic divisions create increasingly opposing factions, the Pope calls us to “find the courage we need to swim against the current” and be more like Jesus.

“Not the daily temptation to swim against other people, like those perpetual victims and conspiracy theorists who are always casting blame on others; but rather against the unhealthy current of our own selfishness, closed-mindedness, and rigidity, which often seeks like-minded groups to survive. Not this, but [instead] swimming against the tide so as to become more like Jesus. For he teaches us to meet evil only with the mild and lowly force of good. […] I ask you to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love. […] Have the courage to be happy.”

4Keep alive the flame of falling in love with Christ

Pope Francis encourages us to not forget that feeling of when we first fell “in love with Jesus” and to go back to it during troubled times. “The Lord does not want men and women who walk behind him reluctantly, without having the wind of gladness in their hearts. Jesus wants people who understand that being with him bestows immense happiness, which can be renewed every day of our life. […] We become Jesus’ preachers not by sharpening the weapons of rhetoric: You can talk, talk, talk, but if there is nothing else…. How do we become preachers of Jesus? By keeping the sparkle of true happiness in our eyes.”

“For this reason, a Christian, like the Virgin Mary, keeps alive the flame of falling in love: in love with Jesus. Certainly there are trials in life; there are moments in which it is necessary to go forward despite the cold and the crosswinds, despite much bitterness. But Christians know the way that leads to that sacred fire which ignited them once and for ever,” the Pope explains. 

5Learn to distinguish between the voice of God and the voice of the devil

The Pontiff gives us some advice on how to distinguish between the voice of God, inciting us to do good, and the voice of the devil, trying to tempt us to evil. “One can learn to discern these two voices: They speak two different languages, that is, they have opposite ways of knocking on [the door of] our hearts,” the Pope writes.

“The voice of God never forces us: God proposes himself, He does not impose himself. Instead, the evil voice seduces, assails, forces: It arouses dazzling illusions, emotions that are tempting but transient. […] God’s voice is a voice that has a horizon, whereas the voice of the evil one leads you to a wall, it backs you into a corner.” 

Also the Pope explains that the devil “wants us to focus on fears of the future or sadness about the past” while God speaks to the present and inspires us to go forward.

Lastly, he adds that God and the Devil will inspire different questions in our minds: The former will ask “What is good for me?” while the latter will be more likely to ask “What do I feel like doing?”

6Remember that the opposite of “I,” is “we,” not “you”

Pope Francis also offers us another way to think and relate to those around us — by seeing them as potential partners with whom to build a peaceful community, rather than individual enemies.

“The Bible tells us that great dreams are those capable of being fruitful, capable of sowing peace, of sowing fraternity, of sowing joy, like today: here, these are great dreams because they consider everyone as ‘we.’ Once, a priest asked me: ‘Tell me, what is the opposite of “I.” And I naively fell into the trap and said ‘the opposite of “I” is “you”‘ — ‘No, Father: This is the seed of war. The opposite of “I” is “we.”‘ If I say: The opposite is “you,” I create war; if I say that the opposite of selfishness is “we,” I make peace; I create community, I bring forth the dreams of friendship, of peace,” the Pope explains in the book.

“Let us not give up on great dreams. Let us not settle only for what is necessary. The Lord does not want us to narrow our horizons or to remain parked on the roadside of life. He wants us to race boldly and joyfully towards lofty goals. We were not created to dream about vacations or the weekend, but to make God’s dreams come true in this world. God made us capable of dreaming, so that we could embrace the beauty of life,” the text continues. 

7Go towards Galilee!

The Pontiff uses the example of the disciples going to Galilee after the resurrection of Christ as an encouragement for us to have a living and active faith that moves forward and does not get fixed on the past.

“The women were looking for Jesus in the tomb; they went to recall what they had experienced with him, which was now gone forever. […] There is a kind of faith that can become the memory of something once beautiful, now simply to be recalled. Many people – including us – experience such a ‘faith of memories,’ as if Jesus were someone from the past […]. A faith made up of habits, things from the past, lovely childhood memories, but no longer a faith that moves me, or challenges me,” the Pope explains. “Going to Galilee, on the other hand, means realizing that faith, if it is to be alive, must get back on the road. It must daily renew the first steps of the journey, the amazement of the first encounter. And it must continue to trust, not thinking it already knows everything, but embracing the humility of those who let themselves be surprised by God’s ways. We are usually afraid of God’s surprises. […] Let us go to Galilee, then, to discover that God cannot be filed away among our childhood memories, but is alive and filled with surprises.”

Francis underlines Galilee is not a fictional place but the context of our lives: “The Risen Lord is asking his disciples to go there even now: He asks us to go to Galilee, to the real ‘Galilee’ of daily life, the streets we travel every day, the corners of our cities. There the Lord goes ahead of us and makes himself present in the lives of those around us, those who share in our day, our home, our work, our difficulties and hopes.” 

8Have mercy (because you need it)

The Pope reminds us that we need to have mercy on others because we need it just as much and we will be judged based on that. “I ask you, then, to rediscover the corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, assist the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead. Nor should we overlook the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, teach the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the sorrowful, forgive offenses, patiently bear with troublesome people and pray to God for the living and the dead. As you can see, mercy does not just imply being a ‘good person’ nor is it mere sentimentality. It is the measure of our authenticity as disciples of Jesus, and of our credibility as Christians in today’s world,” the Pope explains. 

“God’s mercy is our liberation and our happiness. We live of mercy and we cannot afford to be without mercy. It is the air that we breathe. We are too poor to set any conditions. We need to forgive because we need to be forgiven.”

9We will only be able to take to Heaven what we have shared with others

“You cannot serve two masters: God and wealth,” Pope Francis repeats multiple times in the fourth chapter, titled “happiness is not just getting-by.” He invites us to not place all our security in worldly goods. “A heart troubled by the desire for possessions is a heart full of desire for possessions, but empty of God. That is why Jesus frequently warned the rich, because they greatly risk placing their security in the goods of this world, and security, the final security, is in God,” the Pontiff explains.

“If each of us accumulates not for ourselves alone but for the service of others, in this case, in this act of solidarity, the Providence of God is made visible. If, however, one accumulates only for oneself, what will happen when one is called by God? No one can take his riches with him, because — as you know — the shroud has no pockets! It is better to share, for we can take with us to Heaven only what we have shared with others.” 

10Remember every day that God loves you

“God loves us so much that he rejoices and takes pleasure in us. He loves us with gratuitous love, limitless love and expects nothing in return,” the Pontiff emphasizes.

“The very first truth I would tell each of you is this: ‘God loves you.’ It makes no difference whether you have already heard it or not. I want to remind you of it. God loves you. Never doubt this, whatever may happen to you in life. At every moment, you are infinitely loved.” 

Pope FrancisSpiritual Life
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