The Barriers to Happiness


Chalice Lighting

We think, sometime, that what we want and need is beyond our reach.
Love and joy and satisfaction elude us,
And we are sure that life has conspired to keep it from us.
Yet, this certainty that seems so clear can be false.
Our treasure may be within reach,
With only our own limitations keeping it from us.
May the light of this flame dispel our illusions,
Showing to us our deepest longing
And the reality that it is ours for the taking.

Reading: The Poet's Work by Octavio Paz

After chopping off all the arms that reached out to me
After boarding up all the windows and doors
After filling all the pits with poisoned water
After building my house on the rock of a No
inaccessible to flattery and fear
After cutting out my tongue and eating it
After hurling handfuls of silence and monosyllables at my loves
After forgetting my name, my birthplace and my race
After judging and sentencing myself to perpetual waiting and loneliness
I heard against the stones of my dungeon of syllogisms
the humid, tender, insistent onset of spring...

Reading: What the Day Gives, by Jeanne Lohmann

Suddenly, sun. Over my shoulder
in the middle of gray November
what I hoped to do comes back,
Across the street the fiery trees
hold onto their leaves,
red and gold in the final months
of this unfinished year,
they offer blazing riddles..
In the frozen fields of my life
there are no shortcuts to spring,
but stories of great birds in migration
carrying small ones on their backs,
predators flying next to warblers
they would, in a different season, eat.
Stunned by the astonishing mix in this uneasy world
that plunges in a single day from despair
to hope and back again, I commend my life
to Ruskin's difficult duty of delight,
and to that most beautiful form of courage,
to be happy.

Message by Rev Andy Pakula

Lately, I’ve been walking up to people I know and people I don’t - looking them in the eye - and asking ‘are you happy?’ You can imagine that I get some strange looks… And people do respond. Often, it’s a cheerful yes - with no reflection and probably little idea of what I mean. It might be a quick ‘I would be happier if I had more money.’ And that may well be if poverty is leading to inadequate shelter, difficulty commuting, or being stuck in a hated job. And it may just reflect our society's message that happiness comes from stuff.

Some initially glib responses have been followed by longer stories of mental illness and coping strategies. A big problem with my question is that most of us don’t really know exactly what happiness is. We confuse it with pleasure or joy or a cheerful disposition and then - if that’s happiness - no one has it. None of us can experience a continuous state of joy.

Happiness is something else. Over the past two months, I’ve come to believe that true happiness is more like satisfaction and contentment. It comes from living a meaningful life - although not necessarily a joyous one. It comes from growth - from taking on challenges and at least sometimes overcoming them. It comes from having meaningful and deep relationships. It comes from taking good care of our minds and our bodies. It is assessed - not as an instantaneous state - but by reflection on our lives, past, present, and future. A happy person is one who is steady in the face of troubles - able to weather life's inevitable trials.

And happiness is not binary. The question I asked is ridiculous except as a somewhat disconcerting conversation starter. We can be more or less happy. And I am convinced that nearly every one of us can be happier than we are now. While money or fancy cars might help a bit, the real opportunity and obstacles lie within us. It is we who create the barriers to our own happiness. We bring the dark clouds. We put the obstacles in place. And we can change that.

We put obstacles in the way of our own happiness. We don’t do it deliberately. We do it because someone told us to. We do it because we are afraid. We do it because we don’t love ourselves enough. We do it because we have been hurt so badly that we can’t get over it without help. We build a wall that keeps us from the thing we most want - happiness. May the wall you have built against happiness fall. May true happiness be yours and may it cause you to be someone who brings great happiness to others.

The obstacles we build against happiness

  • Not Celebrating

  • Living someone else’s expectations

  • Demanding our own perfection

  • Being too guarded

  • Neglecting our bodies

  • Avoiding challenge

  • Thinking only of ourselves

  • Seeking pleasure rather than happiness

  • Distracting ourselves from the big issues

  • Believing the advertisements

  • Competing with everyone

  • Comparing our insides to others’ outsides

  • Expecting the worst

  • Thinking we’re not good enough

  • Worrying about appearances


May the wall you have built against happiness fall. 
May true happiness be yours and may it cause you to be someone who brings great happiness to others.

Closing Words

May you have the courage to take on new challenges - so you may grow
To allow yourself to be vulnerable to hurt - so that you may love
To see yourself as you are - and accept what you find
To recognise that you are good enough as you are
To be different
To celebrate your life
To be yourself
May you be happy