We were created to be happy and every human being lives in this constant search for happiness. However, the intensity and duration of your happiness depends on your motivations.
"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete." (John 15:11)
Jesus already teaches us that God's desire for each of us is complete joy, happiness without end. Because of sin, that kind of endless happiness is not possible while we are here on earth, yet we can get very close to it, depending on the choices we make.
Happiness is not a static thing, like a picture, but it is a state of mind that depends much more on our inner dispositions than on external events. So depending on how we seek happiness, on what our motivation is, we may or may not find it.
We can identify three basic human motivations to seek happiness, according to Peres Lopes: pleasure, intellectuality, and transcendence. The motivation for pleasure is the most basic motivation, which animals also possess. The person is moved to act to feel pleasure, such as eating, drinking, sleeping, and having sex, among others. The reward for this action is usually immediate and can even be very intense, but this feeling soon passes. This is caused by dopamine, a neurotransmitter, which is related to this reward system. When the neurons of this system are activated, they release dopamine in specific regions of the brain, causing the feeling of pleasure to increase.
With the emptiness of this pleasure that has passed, the person seeks the same stimuli again, but each time needs a greater stimulus to have the same feeling, and many times this type of fleeting happiness becomes an addiction.
The second type of motivation is one that stimulates the intellect. It is no longer an external motivation, as is the case with the pursuit of pleasure, and it is also not accessible to animals. The kind of joy provided by this motivation is a typically human joy, of satisfaction at the growth of intellectual abilities and personal development. Consequently, this kind of happiness is more intense and longer lasting than that caused by pleasure alone, and the reason is that this kind of satisfaction requires a certain amount of effort on the part of the person. It is not an automatic satisfaction that responds to a stimulus. It is a process, often painful, but which in the end generates this more sober joy. Some examples are being able to play an instrument, winning a sports competition, or learning some discipline, such as mathematics or physics.
The highest type of motivation that really brings a fuller and lasting happiness is the transcendent motivation, that which goes beyond physical and intellectual sensations, that which goes beyond the human being himself, such as the pursuit of glory or true love that wants to cause joy to another person or doing something that has a positive impact on many people. This type of motivation helps a person to overcome any obstacle, to make the greatest sacrifices, and does all this with great joy, because what he seeks is not a simple ephemeral pleasure or an intellectual achievement, but a good that surpasses himself.
Some examples of this kind of motivation are young people who give free lessons in a school in a distressed neighborhood, or the volunteer who feeds the homeless, or the father of a family that does a job that costs him a lot, but is important for the support of his family, or even the person who is willing to give his life for a cause.
So, to achieve this lasting happiness, even in the midst of suffering (from which no one escapes), it is necessary that our motivations be higher, seeking to do good for others. "Seek what is above" (Colossians 3:1), St. Paul already guides us.
This does not mean that we cannot feel pleasure. Pleasure was created by God and is a good thing, but it cannot be the purpose of our actions. The highest motivation we can have is that of Jesus himself: to do in everything the will of the Father (John 4:34; John 6:38). This is the joy of Jesus that he wants to be in us, so that our joy may be complete.
Our goal: holiness
The Father's will for each one of us is that we be saints! To be holy means to develop all the potential for which we were created, and one day to enjoy full happiness in Heaven. Therefore, we need to know ourselves and see which virtues we need to conquer. We must use all the means that the Holy Church puts at our disposal to achieve holiness, which are the sacraments, especially confession and the Eucharist. To seek a rich interior life, with prayer and meditation in daily life, seeing how the Father communicates with me and shows his love for me on a daily basis.
So let us look for happiness where it really is: in a holy life of love for God and for others.