VATICAN CITY — Like his predecessors, Pope Francis repeatedly has encouraged the faithful to “go against the tide” to follow Jesus.
Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis all have spoken about the resolve needed to go against the dominant current of secularism or “worldliness” and to avoid the deceptive and tempting pull of a superficial or hypocritical life.
But, according to Pope Francis, it takes courage and the grit of a “revolutionary” not only to follow Christ in today’s world, but also to be genuinely happy along the way.
Happiness is an essential ingredient in a Christian life, as Pope Francis has memorably described with his admonishments against sad faces and against angry or bitter religious and priests who “drink vinegar for breakfast,” giving birth to nothing but a corrosive atmosphere.
After all, “the first sign Jesus accomplished was not an extraordinary healing or a miracle in the temple of Jerusalem,” the pope said in an Angelus in January. Jesus’ first miracle was discreetly turning water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana, “a gesture that responded to a simple and concrete need of common people” to celebrate with joy.
“Jesus makes sure that the feast ends with the best wine. Symbolically, this tells us that God wants what is better for us, he wants us to be happy,” he said.
“God did not desire our lives by mistake, obliging himself and us to experience harsh nights of anguish. He instead created us because he wants us to be happy,” the pope said in a general audience talk in 2017.
These are the kind of reflections found in “Ti voglio felice: Il centuplo in questa vita” (“I Want You to Be Happy: A Hundred Times More Now”), a new book released by the Italian publishing house, Pienogiorno, together with the Vatican Publishing House.
The sunny yellow book brings together the best of the pope’s teachings on happiness over the past decade and has been a No. 1 bestseller in one of Amazon-Italy’s categories for Christianity since its release mid-November.
The book also presents a 15-step “how-to” guide to happiness according to Pope Francis, summarized here to help usher in a happy new year:
1. Read your life: “Our life is the most precious ‘book’ we have been given,” and, according to St. Augustine, people should ‘return to within yourself; truth dwells in the inner man.'”
2. Remember you are unique: “Never let yourselves be homogenized,” the pope said. “We are unique, free and alive, called to live a love story with God, to make bold and firm decisions, to accept the marvelous risk of loving.”
3. Allow your beauty to shine: “We are speaking of the beauty that never fades because it is a reflection of divine beauty. Indeed, our God is inseparably good, true and beautiful. And beauty is one of the privileged ways of finding him.”
4. Learn to not take yourself too seriously: “Narcissists constantly look at themselves in the mirror,” he said. “My advice is look in the mirror every now and then and laugh at yourself. It will do you good.”
5. Live a healthy restlessness: Be open to “a restlessness that always pushes you to keep on walking” and pursue dreams and projects, he said. “Do not cut yourselves off from the world by locking yourselves in your room like a Peter Pan, who does not want to grow up.”
6. Learn to forgive: “Everyone knows that he or she is not the father or mother that they should be, the bride or groom, the brother or sister, the friend we should be. We are all ‘in deficit’ in life and we all need mercy.” In receiving God’s forgiveness, “we too are capable of forgiving.”
7. Learn how to interpret sadness: Sadness “can be an indispensable alarm bell for life, inviting us to explore richer and more fertile landscapes,” he said. Like a red traffic light, sadness signals “a possible danger or a disregarded benefit” and “protects us from harming ourselves and others.”
8. Dream big: “Let us not settle only for what is necessary,” he said. God “wants us to race boldly and joyfully toward lofty goals” and to make “God’s dreams come true in this world.”
9. Pay no heed to those who peddle illusions: “Dreaming is one thing; having illusions is another. Those who peddle illusions by speaking about dreams use happiness as a ploy for something else. We were created for a joy that is much greater.”
10. Be revolutionaries — swim against the tide: “Many preach the importance of ‘enjoying’ the moment” and avoiding any lifelong commitment, he said. “Instead, be revolutionaries … swim against the tide … rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility.”
11. Take risks, even if it means making mistakes: “Dream freely and make good decisions,” he said. “Cast out the fears that paralyze you … open the door of the cage, go out and fly!”
12. Walk with others: “Walking in community, with friends, with those who love us, this helps us arrive at our destination. … And if you fall, get back up.”
13. Be generous: “We received life freely” and, consequently, “all of us are able to give without expecting anything in return, to do good to others without demanding that they treat us well in return.”
14. Look beyond the darkness: “Never stop seeking the light amid whatever darkness. … Lift your gaze from earth to heaven, not in order to flee but to resist the temptation to remain imprisoned by our fears.”
15. Remember that you are destined for the best: “Jesus makes sure that the feast ends with the best wine,” he said. “God wants what is better for us, he wants us to be happy,” and he brings a joy that is complete and never “watered down!”