Skip to main content

The Pope's 10 tips for happiness

By Jay Parini
updated 2:21 PM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives for his general audience at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Wednesday, October 8. With his penchant for crowd-pleasing and spontaneous acts of compassion, the Pope has earned high praise from fellow Catholics and others since he replaced Pope Benedict XVI in March 2013. Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives for his general audience at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Wednesday, October 8. With his penchant for crowd-pleasing and spontaneous acts of compassion, the Pope has earned high praise from fellow Catholics and others since he replaced Pope Benedict XVI in March 2013.
HIDE CAPTION
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In an interview, Pope Francis laid out 10-point plan for happiness
  • Among them: Live and let live; move quietly in world; Sunday is for family; enjoy leisure
  • One that surprises Jay Parini is not to proselytize
  • Parini says the Pope urges us to think innovatively about how to create peace

Editor's note: Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont. He has just published "Jesus: The Human Face of God," a biography of Jesus. Follow him on Twitter @JayParini. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Just when I thought my amazement with Pope Francis had run its course, he did it again. In a long interview with an old friend who was writing for an Argentine magazine, the pope put forward a 10-point plan for happiness. From where I sit, it seems, well, pretty damn good if not perfect. Here are Pope Francis' tips for a happy life and my comments on them:

1. Live and let live. It's an echo of the Pope's earlier remark on gays: "Who am I to judge?" Moreover, it's what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: "Judge not, unless you want to be judged yourself." (Matthew 7:1)

Jay Parini
Jay Parini

2. Give yourself to others. That is, give your money and your time to those in need. Don't just sit around like stagnant water. Give all you have and then some.

3 Move quietly in the world. The Pope quotes from a favorite novel by an early 20th-century Argentine writer, Ricardo Guiraldes, in which the novelist writes that in one's youth, a person is "a rocky stream that runs over everything," but as one gets older, one becomes "a running river, quietly peaceful." It's very like the Native American suggestion that one should walk "in balance and beauty" on the ground, making the least disturbance.

4. Enjoy leisure. The Pope says that consumerism has brought with it unbearable anxieties. So play with your children. Take time off. And don't spend all your time thinking about your next acquisition. Spend your time well, not your money.

5. Sunday is for families. This is actually one of the Ten Commandments. Honor the Sabbath. (Exodus 20:8) Once a week, give a whole day to meditation, worship, family life, tending the needs of the spirit. This is healthy living.

6. Find jobs for young people. Who would have guessed that job-creation would be on list for happiness? But the Pope is right. Honest, simple work for young people is essential to their well-being. Somewhat surprisingly, in this moment in the interview, the Pope connected job creation to the degradation of our environment: "the tyrannical use of nature." He links the lack of good jobs to the lack of respect for ourselves and the Earth itself.

So creating jobs doesn't mean ruining the environment. It doesn't mean, as the politicians chant, "jobs, jobs, jobs." Good and productive labor is valuable, and it doesn't mean you have to have a fancy job description. You don't have to become rich. You can be ordinary. Happiness lies there. Do good work, create good work for others.

Writer: 'What would Jesus do in Gaza?'
Pope Francis to visit U.S. in 2015
Pope meets death sentence Christian

7. Respect nature. This follows from No. 6. "Isn't humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?" the Pope wonders. Not surprisingly, this is what Henry David Thoreau, a founding father of the environmental movement, said. "Most people live lives of quiet desperation," he said. He went into the woods, to Walden Pond, because he wanted "to live deliberately" and to "front only the essential facts of life."

A proper respect for nature means that you can't pollute the air, poison the rivers and chop down the forests indiscriminately without suffering greatly. I suspect that a huge amount of the anxiety and suffering that we see around can be closely traced to our wanton misuse of our resources. Just look at any garbage dump and see what is wasted. In a sense, we've wasted our souls.

8. Let go of negative things quickly. The Pope tells us not to complain about people who annoy or frustrate us, to let go of things as rapidly as we can. I have an old friend who used to say, "Put the bad things in your back pocket and leave them there." This may sound like escapism or putting your head in the sand, but it's more interesting than that. Life throws rotten things our way each day. People say nasty things to us, often about others. This stuff makes them miserable, of course. It makes us miserable, too. Flush it.

9. Don't preach your religion too forcefully. Proselytism brings on paralysis, the Pope tells us. Wow. I'm a Christian myself, and I don't mind saying so. But each person sees the world before them in his or her own way. The Pope says this. As a teaching, it seems to run counter to the so-called Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). Jesus said to get out there and spread the word. But the Pope takes a relaxed view of this activity, preferring that we should teach by example. Perhaps that really is what Jesus would do?

10. Work for peace. The Pope has preached this message from the beginning of his time as pontiff. He has gone to Jerusalem and worked to bring together Jews and Palestinians. He has prayed for peace and worked for peace. He has listened closely to Jesus, who said, "blessed are the peacemakers."

The Pope asks us to take in refugees, to think innovatively about how to create peace in the world. Jesus, of course, invites us to turn the other cheek when struck. This is a complex teaching. But it's essential to Christian faith. The Pope, once again, calls on us to take the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount seriously. This is very hard but crucial work.

Pope Francis has, in this unlikely venue, given us his own Sermon on the Mount, his Ten Commandments for happiness and inner peace. One can only be grateful for his wisdom, which is rooted in a sincere faith, in hard-earned wisdom, and a very practical knowledge of human needs and potentials.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT