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St. Ignatius’ advice for being more joyful

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Evgeny Atamanenko | Shutterstock

Fr. Michael Rennier - published on 07/31/23

Ignatius is clear: God doesn’t want us sad and miserable. He made the world for our enjoyment.

Joy is, perhaps, not what we think. It arises from mysterious sources.

As human beings, what gives us joy? In the past I’ve tricked myself over and over again into thinking I would achieve perfect joy if only I made a certain purchase, achieved a desired level of recognition, or indulged in little pleasures like over-eating and watching too much television. Those little endorphin-fueled moments are short-lived. They burn out quickly and leave us dissatisfied. We always want more, and the wanting is what saps our joy.

Not too long ago I was reading the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola and a few of his insights on joy are applicable.

First, Ignatius says to cultivate joy in order to obtain joy. 

“One is to ask for joy with Christ in joy,” writes St. Ignatius. In other words, maintain a joyful intent when you ask God to give you more joy. It simply won’t do for me to beg God for joy, or blame him because I’m not feeling it, if I spend all day indulging in sadness, self-pity, or jealousy. Joy doesn’t arrive out of nowhere. It cannot be dependent on circumstances from outside ourselves, but must begin within.

Second, Ignatius indicates that we must be mindful of the entirety of our lives – the good, the bad, the past, and the future. 

He says to consider, “How I shall find myself on the Day of Judgment, to think how I would then want to have deliberated about the present matter … in order that I may then find myself in entire pleasure and joy.” 

Ignatius takes the long view. When we look back on our lives, will we regret our words and actions? If so, those same words and actions also won’t bring us joy here and now.

We tend to seek joy in the wrong places. We’re conditioned by advertising and envy to desire certain possessions and experiences, but they leave us feeling empty. In my life, for instance, I’ve discovered joy when I put in the time and effort to be with my family and spend time with my children. Pay attention to when you truly feel lasting joy. You may be surprised.

Finally, Ignatius has this sensible advice: Enjoy your life and don’t feel guilty about it. 

He writes, “Use light or temporal comfort — as, in summer, the coolness; and in winter, the sun or heat – as far as the soul thinks or conjectures that it can help it to be joyful in its Creator and Redeemer.” 

There’s nothing wrong with taking pleasure and feeling gratitude for our blessings. We don’t always believe we deserve joy, so we reject it when it comes our way. Ignatius is clear, though: God doesn’t want us sad and miserable. He made the world for our enjoyment, so as long as our desires are healthy and moderate, we ought to take great joy in what God has provided for us, how beautiful and good this life really can be.

St. Ignatius teaches that we live an incarnational faith and that God gives us joy in any and all circumstances. This is true joy, the ability to be happy no matter what, whether it’s in the dark of winter or relaxing on a beach in the sunshine.

Mental HealthSaintsSpiritual Life
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