The Charity of Cheerfulness

Cheerfulness is a very great help in fostering the virtue of charity. Cheerfulness itself is a virtue. Therefore, it is a habit that can and should be acquired.

Cheerfulness is perhaps best represented in the word affability. St. Thomas Aquinas places affability under the general heading of the cardinal virtue of justice, the virtue that prompts us to give to others what is their due under any sense of duty or obligation. You are obliged to help and not hinder others around you in the world on their way toward Heaven. Not only are you to help the needy by your alms, and the erring by your advice, but you are also to help all whom you know or meet by your kindliness, pleasant­ness, and affability of manner.

Cheerfulness of attitude and manner is a great help to those who come into contact with you. If you are a sour, unsociable, gloomy-looking person, you will make people feel uneasy, and you will in­tensify your own temptations to give way to sadness. On the other hand, if you are cheerful, you will lift the spirits of people, invite their confidence, and increase their hope of serving God well.

If you consistently present a gloomy attitude toward life and everybody around you, it may be because you are suffering from a case of self-pity. You let your sorrows and misfortunes overwhelm you. Or you may be prompted by envy to refuse even an effort at being cheerful because you are thinking of the many good things others have that you are denied. Or you may be a victim of your feelings. Temperamentally you may be inclined toward sadness, and you take the position that you should let your temperament rule you.

Avoid false cheerfulness

You are not really cheerful when you lack seriousness when it is time to be serious, so that you cannot give serious attention to the important duties of life. It is dangerous and misguided cheerfulness to make light of your serious sins, to avoid all thoughts of judg­ment and Hell, and to be giddy and distracting to others in church or on other serious occasions. You are not really cheerful when you lack sympathy. It is a great defect of cheerfulness in your character if you cannot sympathize with the sorrows of people, if you avoid people who are suffering, or if you manifest by your attitude that you are not going to permit yourself to be disturbed by their sorrows.

You need not express your cheerfulness by smiles and laughter or jokes and light-minded chatter. In the presence of sorrow, you can adopt a serious mien and show signs of sympathy, but at the same time you can express your cheerfulness in the solid motives for hope, fortitude, and patience that God has provided for all whom He asks to suffer. You will not refuse to permit any of your friends to face facts that are a cause of sorrow, nor will you try to think up exaggerated reasons for not grieving or making light of the grieving of others.

You are not really cheerful if you are cheerful only at times, but at other times give way to sadness and melancholy. This would indicate that you are ruled entirely by your feelings. It would be even worse if you had the habit of being cheerful in the presence of some of your relatives and friends, but gloomy in the presence of others, especially your own family. You cannot afford to have one attitude toward your family and another toward those with whom you mingle outside your home.

You must learn to rise above your feelings, even though the control of feelings is most difficult. There is no hypocrisy in being ruled by the will rather than by the feelings. Try to live up to the ideal of being always the same toward everyone: kindly, affable, sympathetic, encouraging — in a word, cheerful. This ideal will be recognized by all, and you will spread the sunshine of joy around you.

You are not really cheerful if you must depend on dangerous stimulants of one kind or another. Drink is often an escape from reality and makes people boisterous, foolish, and degraded.

There are three important virtues that make people cheerful in the true sense of the word: hope, fortitude, and fraternal charity.

This article is adapted from Fr. Lovasik’s The Hidden Power of Kindness.

Cheerfulness is founded on hope

Hope is the virtue by which you keep your eyes fixed on Heaven as the goal of your life, made certainly attainable by the merits and promises and fidelity of Jesus Christ. Since you always have something wonderful to look forward to, you are cheerful. Hope is a supernatural virtue infused at Baptism, but it requires ef­fort and repeated actions to become effective.

You cannot be cheerful if you succumb to the vices opposed to hope, such as despair, which is a surrender to the thought that Heaven cannot be attained and that the sufferings of Hell are in­evitable. St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus used to say, “We can never have too much confidence in the good God. He is so mighty, so merciful.”

Worldliness urges people to capture every possible delight here and now. It leads to sadness, because there are no delights in this world that can fully satisfy the human heart. Worldliness also leads to envy, avarice, impurity, and all such causes of sadness.

Fortitude allows you to face the sorrows of life

Fortitude is a basis for cheerfulness. Fortitude induces you to face the inevitable sorrows of life and, above all, death itself, in the service of God with courage and patience. You will look to the suf­ferings of Christ for inspiration. You will look to the happiness of Heaven with a heart full of hope, and you will count even the greatest sufferings as a small price to pay for that reward. There­fore, try to overcome cowardice, self-pity, and lack of confidence in the goodness of God — faults that prevent you from being cheerful. As a result of these faults, you may find yourself con­stantly grumbling against God and everybody around you because of the sufferings you have to endure.

Do not take yourself too seriously. You have to learn not to be dismayed at making mistakes. No human being can avoid failures.

The important thing is not to let your mistakes and failures gnaw away at you. Regret is an appalling waste of energy. You cannot build on it.

Instead of wasting priceless time and energy in regret or self-reproach, the wise thing is for you to swing into action once more. People give little sympathy to those who feel sorry for themselves. If you experience misfortune, other people will not usually harden their hearts toward you. They have responsibilities to face, tasks to be done, and pleasures to be enjoyed. They expect you to take your troubles in stride and to rebound into the daily round of living. Such expectations are sensible.

When you go forward to grapple with your problems coura­geously and hopefully, you cannot help having a beneficial influ­ence upon other people. Courage and hope are contagious. Spread these virtues among the persons whom you encounter; you will be rendering them and yourself an inestimable service.

Doing good brings joy

By the virtue of charity for the love of God, you love and want to help all your neighbors, especially those whose lives are in some way associated with your own. One way of helping others is by an attitude of cheerfulness.

Joy is the reward of charity. This intimate joy of the soul is dis­tinguished from all other joys by its purity. The joy that is the fruit of charity is abiding. All earthly happiness exhausts itself, except the happiness of a loving heart that knows how to share the joys and sorrows of others. The joy born of charity is one of the few joys that support you at the hour of death.

In the hour of farewell, the divine Master declared that He desired His joy to be in His disciples: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Thus your joy at doing good springs from the fountain of Him who is the essence of all love, from the fountain of God. From the waters of joy that flow in the heart of God, fountains of joy will spring up in your heart if you strive to imitate God’s great love in at least a small measure, like the fountains of which our Lord speaks: “The water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

If your heart thirsts for joy, do good to others. You will satisfy your thirst in the fountain of God’s own bliss. You can find your happiness only in possessing God. St. Augustine says, “Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in Thee.” You can find happiness in making other people happy if your efforts are motivated by a sincere love of God.

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Fr. Lovasik’s The Hidden Power of Kindness which is available from Sophia Institute Press. 

Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik

By

Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik (1913–1986) said that his life’s ideal was to “make God more known and loved through my writings.” Fr. Lovasik did missionary work in America’s coal and steel regions, founded the Sisters of the Divine Spirit, a missionary congregation, and wrote numerous books and pamphlets emphasizing prayer and the Holy Eucharist.

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  • Deb Scott, BA, CPC

    I love this article and have shared it everywhere!! Thank you blessings :)

  • tryin not to be frowny brow

    As someone who – unfortunately suffers severe depression is the kind of article I come across, read and am left a bit ….puzzled.

    I believe it has good things to say – however…. the tone seems to me to read

    “Try Harder to be happy – and if you are not its because you are bad ”

    There are somethings in which “trying harder” just can’t overcome. Sometimes God allows the cloud, the suffering, the pain to remain – for decades (in my case). Sometimes its crippling. Sometimes it can only be “managed”.

    I don’t harbour any ill will against Fr Lovasik. (I know he’s dead and gone since vinyl LPs) I just don’t think yelling “stop your crying and cheer up you !^@%$!! coward!”
    to the chronically depressed is going to help all that much.

    Rather I read this often ->

    http://www.stpeterchurch.net/st_peter_blog/2012/11/14/hope-from-depression.html

    Its in my wallet from my wife’s copy of “Magnificat”.

  • Michael J. Lichens

    As someone with diagnosed Major Depressive Disorder, I can see what you mean but I’m not sure that what you read is what the article is saying. Although, believe me, I also want to punch most people who demand I be happy when melancholy strikes. Certainly, this article doesn’t say, “Try Harder to be happy – and if you are not its because you are bad.”

    For some of us, it is not a choice. We literally cannot pull ourselves out of the dark shadow that is depression. However, such cases as you and I are rare and Fr. Lovasik’s article is aimed for a larger audience.

    I decided to post this because I do, in fact, find that the last paragraph of this article is the most helpful. My spiritual director once told me that we do good for ourselves and others to try to bring joy to others even when we are feeling far from joyful. It is an act of charity to find a way to worth through depression and still feel empathy and love for our neighbour. In fact, if depression has any “good sides” (not sure that it does) than it is to give us more empathy. The example of Mother Teresa is especially helpful.

    So, the long and short, not meaning to put you off. Articles like these are meant to encourage folks, but may not apply to every single individual who reads it.

  • Mike

    1- “however…. the tone seems to me to read”

    2- “I just don’t think yelling “stop your crying and cheer up you !^@%$!! coward!”
    to the chronically depressed is going to help all that much.”

    Some things that struck me about your observation:

    A. When I was assigned to hospital chaplaincy many years ago, I was the only Catholic – and male – in the group, with the other 10 being non-Catholic women. Three key points to ministry that we were always told to remember and practice: LISTEN. LISTEN. LISTEN. And when you’re ready to say something: DON’T.
    Each person in the group was in ministry for a reason, so our group leader proposed to us to ask ourselves in the course of the chaplaincy:
    - Why were we involved in ministry?
    - What motivated us?
    - What core wound am I struggling with that I may be bringing that may affect my ministry?
    - Will my core wound be the lens through which I filter/interpret/live every expereince?
    - Will I allow the one in front of me to tell me their story in its totality of experience/pain/joy/hurt/fulfillment?
    - Do I try and redirect or stifle their story because of my own interior wound?
    - Do I impose an interpretation? Or do I let them speak, even if it makes me uncomfortable?

    B. Based on what I saw you had written (and which I quoted above), I feel that your core wound of severe depression may be influencing the way you are reading Fr. Lovasik’s words.

    I do not suffer from severe depression as you do, so I can’t say that I understand your perspective. I can only acknowledge that your core wound is *your* core wound and that you are struggling with it, and the article had an affect on you.

    Personally, Fr. Lovasik’s words were very comforting for me, and practical, exhorting me to think and act differently, to change my perspective, to draw upon my Faith’s rich tradition of sprituality and practices.

    I have my own wounds with which I struggle, but while Fr.’s words may have been perceived as insensitive to you, I do not see it as such.

    In fact, I would interpret it as ‘exhortatory’ preaching, a style which exhorts and encourages the listener to rise out of themselves, to practice a sense of detachment to one’s affect and to appraise and approach from a different perspective.

    Perhaps you have interpreted it as ‘haranguing’ instead? Does your core wound affect and influence you, that you find it hard to accept Fr.’s exhortation to the struggle with joy and trust in the Lord? To raise one’s heart and mind, to find and apprehend a new focus point, that is, the virtue and habit of cheerfulness, which one must struggle to will.

    In other words, like Psalm 121:1-2 “I shall lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

    I understand your hurt and wound: it is yours, you acknowledge it and you are struggling with it. No one can understand it but yourself: all the rest of us can and must do is to respect and venerate you in your struggles.

    But I could also ask you to consider the bravery, fortitude and heroicism Fr. Lovasik says is the all for all of us, all of us who are burdened and weighed down with the gloom and discouragement of our personal circumcstances, which the world tries to impose, and which no one but each of us understand and grapple with in our hearts and minds.
    Peace be with you. Truly.

  • anonymous

    Hi, I just love the article from your wife’s Magnificat. I’d like to say to you to ‘try to Love more’. The more you Love God, the more you come to Love the other. It is in loving the other one forgets one’s self. It is a most peaceful place to be when you settle into the true joy in Jesus – even if it’s just momentary at the time. This has pathway to strengthen your relationship with HIM. The enemy loves for us to be discouraged, it’s a great distraction away from God who is Love, and makes this world more about ourselves instead of our Lord’s plan,

    Love is the way out of it – God Bless You and my prayer has been sent.

  • anon

    hang in there!

  • spelunker

    I’ve been sick with the flue and been physically depressed and felt all kinds of physical pains and annoyances in my life and yet been blissfully happy through it all deep inside.

    Yet on the surface all anyone else see’s, including myself, is the symptoms of whatever is bothering me. But deep down I’m still pretty happy.

    That’s from God.

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