Years ago when I was a teenager, my mom worked as a public health nurse. As part of its marketing campaign to drum up support for its programming, the health unit where she worked once came up with a catchy phrase, Be Happy, Be Healthy.
I was recently reminiscing about this with my wife over dinner, discussing how so many of us in the world today seek true happiness, while there seem to be a myriad interpretations on how best to obtain or recognize it.
We were talking at the time about how some parents give birth to babies with Down syndrome or other developmental difficulties, in comparison to how our two children were born without any serious health complications.
Such an event can understandably jar a parent and leave feelings of shock and dismay in the hearts of so many people. Yet, these babies are unmistakably blessings from Heaven and their arrival should only bring tears of joy, not sadness. Beautiful angels with so much promise laid out before them, and still, they could be welcomed into the world with trepidation.
My wife and I continued to talk about how so many parents – ourselves included – merely wish for their babies to be born healthy (as if there is one clear definition of that term).
Certainly, discovering one’s child is born free of any brain defects or breathing difficulties, missing limbs, or weak organs can provide a great sense of relief for the parents and heightened hope for both them and their baby. But should any health concern really serve as a stain on a baby’s life or compromise the joy in the lives of anyone around her?
We went on to remark how so many of us in society base our happiness on such matters as health, or finances, or social status and other aspects.
How many people base their level of delight or optimism on how big their home is, or the type of job they have, or clothes they wear? How many of us find ourselves comparing our possessions to those of our neighbor, whether they are a backyard, a vacation destination or a prom date? (Exodus 20:17)
As a high school teacher, I see all too often a level of dissatisfaction in life, as students can easily get caught up in a trap of questioning Am I enough? or Can I have more?
Whether it is a grade not worthy of university or parental acceptance, a body type not attractive to the cool clique, or a video game system or cell phone not up to par with today’s radically advanced standards, so many youth can easily have an innocent perception of happiness clouded or destroyed by surrounding influences.
It was during this dinner conversation that my wife mentioned another word beginning with H that was missing from the equation – holy.
It seems we focus far too much on worldly elements dictating our happiness and health, rather than appreciating all of the blessings bestowed upon us by God and seeing them as means for living a happy and healthy life, thanking and serving Him as the source of all of this.
If we as children of God truly believe our faith’s teaching that we are created in the image and likeness of God, then are we not also to live according to His example, rather than social expectations?
Instead of focusing on riches and possessions, we are called to live with humility and simplicity, showing our thanks and sharing our gifts with those less privileged around us.
This can be achieved through so many ways, including giving clothes too small for us to impoverished children of a resort island next time we visit there, or donating them to a discount store right in our own community.
Rather than compare our appearances to celebrities or our peers and feeling inadequate, we are invited to appreciate our bodies as temples of God, treating them with respect and honor.
We can demonstrate this by eating healthy and regularly; exercising in a fair and consistent manner without causing undue stress or damage to ourselves; not feeling pressured to decorate our bodies excessively or artificially; and growing our intellect through constructive reading or strategic games.
In order to cultivate a more genuine and renewed foundation in our lives, we are challenged to deepen our walk of discernment and spirituality.
We can accomplish this through more frequent prayer and attendance at Mass, and reading from the Bible as part of our daily or weekly routine. We can also seize opportunities to be involved in our community, volunteering our time and money for various charities, research organizations and public awareness rallies, all in the name of fostering the beauty of life.
As well, we can celebrate opportunities for quality time with our loved ones, savoring moments such as a board game or picnic together as more important than watching a movie or our favorite TV show alone.
Doing such things to our best ability and with the involvement of our families, friends and new connections disguised as strangers, we can truly develop lives rich in happiness, health and holiness.
As we grow in this mission, we can achieve exactly what we are called to do – live saintly lives while discovering a path of acting justly, loving with mercy and walking humbly with God and His community. (Micah 6:8)