By Chris Gilbert *
Who among us does not long for lasting happiness? This universal desire is ever present, yet so many today are not happy. Fr. Robert Spitzer’s brilliant exploration of true happiness is an incredible gift for anyone looking for something more satisfying than the next short-lived physical stimulation. With his book, “Finding True Happiness: Satisfying Our Restless Hearts”, Fr. Spitzer takes a refreshingly comprehensive approach to the human person as a physical and spiritual being with a mind, will, and emotions. He does not limit his focus where one might expect a priest to do so: merely seeking spiritual solutions to the problem of unhappiness. Spitzer’s dual approach to faith and reason as both a scientist and a faithful priest produces a robust analysis of the human person.
The author draws on the expertise of psychologists, philosophers, and scientists to illuminate the natural world and the human experience. These all point to something outside and beyond ourselves. But is such a conclusion – finding fulfillment in the divine – just wishful thinking, as Freud understood it? Spitzer appeals to the most brilliant astrophysicists, mathematicians and logicians of our age, who insist we are transphysical, or spiritual beings. Only God can account for the life’s greatest question, say the greatest minds to ever live.
As it turns out, obtaining happiness takes some serious reflection about our lives and the choices we make. Even our unconscious attitudes play an influential role in our level of happiness, yet we often remain unaware of their existence, let alone impact. The author reveals four levels of happiness, each with its proper place and role. Most basically, we seek external, material pleasure. Our brains and sensory faculties detect biological opportunities and dangers and so, thankfully, we naturally seek breakfast and clothing. Secondly, we have a self-consciousness which leads us to seek status, intelligence, power, and social opportunities. Third, we have a capacity for self-consciousness and empathy which fills us with the desire to contribute to our communities and the world. Finally, we were created with a transcendental awareness and desire for the sacred and the spiritual. The person who lives solely for the first or second kind of happiness, to the neglect of the third or fourth, will only experience brief moments of happiness, but not the lasting kind we were made for.
Spitzer then invites the reader to examine what it means to be human while unveiling the fruits of full capacity living and the struggles of a sub-par life. The strength of his approach rests on common human experiences – frustrations and failures that plague us, as well as achievements and celebrations we strive for. He keeps his feet on the ground with eminently practical examples while empowering his readers to extend their current situation. He guides the reader through the process of changing one’s fundamental attitudes by examining purpose in life, views of others and one-self, and views of freedom. Thus, he makes “escaping your personal hell” a concrete reality.
After laying a practical and accessible foundation, the book proceeds to an exploration of the deepest level of happiness. Spitzer crowns his social, psychological, and philosophical analysis with beauty, the Church, and a relationship with God focused on Jesus Christ. With faith, we discover worship, learning, and service as vehicles of grace buoyed up by prayer and ongoing conversion. These realities are richly explored as the ultimate means to true happiness.
Those who engage this volume will be happy to learn it is only the first of four. Fr. Spitzer’s brilliance shines through his insights, relatable anecdotes, and profound conclusion. Readers will discover that the build-up of the initial pages creates the tension of a sling-shot: a little effort results in a spectacular and unforeseen flight.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.