Monday, 28 July 2014

Francis: Happiness, in ten simple steps

Francis happiness

Yesterday, Pope Francis’ interview with the Argentine Vivir (a Sunday magazine of the Clarin daily) included 10 tips for how to be happy. Their language is simple, and I believe their applicability is very broad and likely to resonate with believers and non-believers alike. While I think that they are essentially an application of his Evangelii Gaudium to the broad readership of a magazine, the way they are posed largely avoids religious terminology,1 even though they have deep roots in Jesus’ life and teaching.

Even though the 77 minute interview from which they are taken is not available yet, these 10 pieces of advice are contained in the four minute extract that Clarin have already published on their website in Spanish:2
  1. Live and let live. “Here the Romans have a saying that we can follow like a thread: “Go ahead and let others go ahead too.” Live and let live, that is the first step towards peace and joy.”

  2. Giving oneself to others. “If one stays still, they run the risk of being selfish. And still water is the first to spoil.”

  3. Moving like a peaceful oasis. “In Don Segundo Sombra there is a beautiful image of someone who reflects on their own life. He says that as a youth he was a rocky stream that moved everything in its path; as an adult he was a river that moved ahead and that in old age he felt in motion, but slowly like a peaceful oasis [“remansado” in the original]. I would use the image of the poet and writer Ricardo Güiraldes, this last adjective “remansado.” The capacity to move with kindness and humility, the peaceful oasis of life. Old people have this wisdom, they are the memory of a nation. And a nation that does not look after its old people has no future.

  4. Playing with kids. “Consumerism has lead us to an anxiety about losing a healthy culture of leisure, reading, enjoying art. These days I rarely hear confessions, but in Buenos Aires I used to do that a lot and when a young mum came to me, I asked her: “How many children do you have? Do you play with them?” And it was a question she did not expect, but I said to her that playing with kids is key, it is a healthy culture. It is difficult, parents go to work early and at times return when the kids are already sleeping, it is difficult, but it has to be done.”

  5. Spending Sundays with the family. “The other day, in Campobasso, I went to a meeting between the worlds of academia and the world of labor, and both were demanding Sundays without work. Sunday is for the family.”

  6. Helping young people find employment. “We have to be creative with their age group. If there is a lack of opportunity, they will fall prey to drugs. And the suicide index among young people without employment is very high. The other day I read, but I don’t trust it because it is not scientific data, that there are 75 million unemployed young people below the age of 25.3 It is not enough to feed them: we have to make up one-year courses for them to learn plumbing, becoming an electrician or a builder. Bringing bread home is what gives you dignity.”

  7. Looking after nature. “We have to look after creation and we are not doing it. It is one of the greatest challenges we have.”

  8. Quickly forgetting about the negative. “The need to speak ill of another indicates low self-esteem, in other words: I feel so low that instead of rising, I lower the other. Quickly forgetting what is negative is healthy.”

  9. Respecting those who think differently. “We may trouble others by our testimony, so that we may both progress in our communication, but the worst that can happen is religious proselytism, which paralyzes: “I dialogue with you to convince you.” No! Each one dialogues from their own identity. The Church grows by attraction, not by proselytism.”

  10. Actively seeking peace. “We are living in times of many wars. In Africa, wars look like tribal wars, but they are something else. War destroys. And the call for peace has to be shouted. Peace at times gives the impression of stillness, but it is never stillness, it is always an active peace.”
I particularly like Francis’ words on respect - both in general (delighting in the progress of others like in one’s own) and in dialogue (worry/unsettle - yes, set out to convince - no), on playing with kids, on a forgetfulness of the negative and on challenges (lack of peace, youth unemployment, selfishness combatted by self-giving) have to be faced actively (but an activity that is kind and humble). To suggest that the above is un-Christian (or even a-Christian) is being blinded by packaging and a subscription to dualism instead of the realization that God’s love extends to all, regardless of their beliefs.

1 Unsurprisingly, but sadly, he has already been criticized for the non-religious terms in which he has expressed his advice, e.g., here.
2 The following, crude translation is mine and follows the interview’s transcript here.
3 In fact the International Labor Organization (a UN agency) places worldwide youth unemployment at 73 million, which supports Francis’ figure. In terms of individual countries, according to government statistics there were "817,000 young people aged 16-24 [...] unemployed in March to May 2014" in the UK. And in Argentina the figure is around the 2.5 million mark according to the Peace Child International NGO, while in the US there were 3.5 million unemployed 16-24 year olds in 2013, according to the ILO. Fact-check: done!

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