The American Fairy Tale

February 17, 2019

In an article entitled “The American Fairy Tale,” Dr. Darold Treffert, the director of the Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Wisconsin, discusses five dangerous ideas we have about happiness.

The first dangerous idea about happiness is that happiness is in material things. The more you accumulate and possess, the happier you will be.

The second is that happiness is what you do. The more you produce and earn, the more important and happier you will be.

The third is that happiness is being the same as others. The more you are fashionable and conform with the times, the happier you will be.

The fourth dangerous idea is that happiness is perfect mental health. The fewer problems you have and the more carefree you are, the happier you will be.

The fifth is that happiness is communicating with electronic gadgets. The more you communicate with a television set, a satellite or a computer, the happier you will be.

According to Dr. Treffert, these five myths about happiness are the cause of many mental health problems today.

A puppy said to his old uncle dog, “From my short experience in life I have learned that the best thing for a dog is happiness and that happiness is in my tail. That is why I am chasing my tail, and when I catch it, I shall have perfect happiness.” The old dog replied, “From my research and long experience, I too, have judged that happiness is a fine thing for a dog and that happiness is in his tail. But I've noticed that whenever I chase it, it keeps running away from me, but when I go about my business, it comes after me.”

According to a recent U.S. study, only 20% of Americans claim to be happy. Is our “American dream” the picture of the happy life: the ideal of owning a beautiful home with a two-car garage, a loving and adjusting spouse, two well-behaved kids and a dog, enjoying a decent job, and having enough money to enjoy leisure and retired life? Where do we go in search of happiness: the movie theater, the amusement park, a hiking trail, a shopping mall, a good restaurant, a ballpark?

In the Gospel of Matthew, the Beatitudes are included in the Sermon on the Mount and has eight blessings. In today’s Gospel according to Luke, the sermon takes place on a large stretch of level ground and is called the “Sermon on the Plain.” The Sermon on the Plain has four blessings and four woes. “Blessed” means “happy” in Aramaic and is an exclamation. It can also be translated as “Congratulations to…”

The condition of being “poor” indicates a greater detachment to material things, allowing us to find the ultimate fulfillment in God alone. Letting go of the fairy tales of happiness allows us to glorify God with our entire life, resulting not in fantasy, but the greatest possible reality of happiness.

Kathryn Richards