Principles for Living a Happy Life (According to Pope Francis)

positive psychology Dec 14, 2020

As we near the end of what has been an unpredictable and difficult year for many, it's important to recall simple ways we can increase peace and joy in our lives. In an interview from 2014, Pope Francis shared his list of 10 ways to find happiness; these guidelines are worth revisiting as we prepare for Christmas, the feast during which we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace into our world and our hearts. (These principles are based on a more generalized understanding of human nature and not so much on any religious interpretation, so he offers it to the whole world Catholic and non-Catholic alike.)

Here are a few of his principles for living a happy life:

  • "Be giving of yourself to others."

During this season when so much focus is placed on finding the perfect gift for our loved ones, we can forget that we ourselves can be a gift to others. "If you withdraw, one runs the risk of being egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.”  It is a mystery, but we know from Christ's example in the Gospels that we find our life when we lay it down for others.  

  • "Move quietly and peacefully." 

The Pope encourages us to move with “kindness and humility” and “calmness of life.” During this traditionally hectic time of year, this is a good reminder to slow down, both physically and mentally.   

  • "Make time for playing with children, for leisure, reading and enjoying art."

“Consumerism has brought us anxiety,” he said, and a loss of a "healthy culture of leisure." This sentiment echoes the findings from recent research in Positive Psychology.  Martin Seligman, a leading authority in the field of Positive Psychology, proposed that five principles are necessary for happiness; engaging in leisurely and enjoyable activity, accomplishing goals and enjoying healthy relationships (especially with one's family) are all part of his prescription. This Christmas season, set aside some time to engage in those playful activities that bring you joy. 

  • "Rapidly forget the negative."

"Needing to talk badly about others indicates low self-esteem. That means, 'I feel so low that instead of picking myself up, I have to cut others down,'" the Pope said. "Letting go of negative things quickly is healthy." This can be quite challenging, but speaking negatively about others usually only serves to cause more of a rift in relationships than seeking to focus on positive aspects of the other.  

  • "Respect those who think differently." 

It’s important to engage in dialogue with those who think differently and respect who they are first as human persons before making any sort of fundamental judgment against them because of a certain way they think. "Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The Church grows by attraction, not proselytizing..." Holiday gatherings with extended family members have the potential to turn sour if there are disagreements in how you see the world. The Pope encourages us here to make sure that we are conversing from a place of respect and charity for the other, no matter how deep the divide between your beliefs.  

  • "Actively seek peace."

Peace doesn’t just come accidentally. While some people are naturally disposed towards “flourishing”, the good news is that well-being can actually be learned. One must actively engage in the process to attain it.  Pope Francis says "Peace sometimes gives the impression of being quiet, but it is never quiet, peace is always proactive." As we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation - the coming of the Prince of Peace into our world - what are some ways that you can actively seek to bring peace into your heart and your home this season? 

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