The last that I can remember feeling truly happy was when I passed the 2007 Philippine bar exams. I can only describe the feeling as intense, prolonged, and incomparable. I felt so fulfilled, hopeful, and proud. This good feeling lasted longer than the fleeting moments of joy we normally experience. It started the moment I learned I passed the exam, to the taking of the oath as a member of the Integrated Bar, and thereafter when I signed the roll of attorneys in the Philippine Supreme Court. The good feeling lasts even a few months after I embarked on my law practice.
Attorney’s oath taking is an elaborate ceremony in this country. It is usually held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, attended by all the Justices of the Philippine Supreme Court. I remember sitting on the third row of CCP, wearing a clean white long sleeves shirt, neatly tucked in a pinstriped, dark executive pants, with a light blue necktie. All of us wore togas. Sitting there, I was allowing the entire experience sinking in. The signing of the Rolls of Attorneys is also another ceremony that breeds happy feeling. This Roll, a thick and big log book with red hard bound cover, contains the names of the first who passed the bar in the 1900’s. It felt so unreal, writing and signing my name on that thick book.
Now, three years after, I could only recall those events and describe the feeling that goes with them. I cannot reproduce that good feeling no matter how hard I try. That, I believe, is the nature of happiness. Happiness is a passing traveler, stopping only for a cup of water, or a meal, or a night’s stay. It sets on its journey again the next day. Yet we hold on to happiness with a tight embrace. We frantically search for it, work for it, and pay for it with all we got. We make it our life’s goal. Happiness even dictates our major decisions in life. We change career, let go or create new relationships, permanently move to another place on the planet, all in pursuit of happiness.
Jon Joaquin this morning at All Nations Christian Fellowship talked about the concept of the “dark night of the soul”. He said something that got me to write this piece - “God’s purpose for you is not to make you happy but to conform you to His Son, Jesus Christ”. This statement, I think, is daring and in some sense contentious, yet contains a tone of truth in it. I, too often, assume on God’s purpose for me – to make me happy. This is obvious in the contents of my prayers. All too often, I set my eyes on my own personal satisfaction as against that of others. In fact, I am tempted to demand happiness as a right.
With happiness as our life’s aim, we tend to shun hardships, difficulties, and trials as evils. We tend to view them as sign of lack of faith or a failing spirituality. In the bible, there’s Job, the man who lost everything in one day - his children, his wealth and his health. Lying on the ground with filthy sores covering his body, Job could only regret the day of his birth. At this point Job’s wife glared at him saying “why hold on to your integrity? Curse God and die”. To which Job replied “you speak as one of the foolish women. Shall we only accept good things from God and shall we not accept bad things from God?”
We need to temper happiness into its proper place – it is merely a by-product, a result of pursuing something more fundamental. It is a by-product of a life lived in God and for God. It is the result of good and godly relationships such as family, friends, or church community. It is also a by-product of godly artistic endeavors or meaningful and creative works that augments a person’s worth and value. It is a by-product of a live lived for others. Happiness is a follower never the leader.