Session 1: The Search for Happiness

Resources for participants.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1A:

  • What games or activities did you enjoy as a child?
  • What were your favourite sweets or meals as a child?
  • What part of the world did you grow up in and what was it like?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

1B:

  • What do you think people are looking for most in their lives?
  • What is happiness? Is it possible to find?
  • If you knew the world was going to end in one hour, what would you do?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

1C:

  • What helps you to relax and de-stress?
  • What advice would you give someone who says they are too busy?
  • How would you cope without your mobile phone or the internet?
  • What other ideas or questions strike you from this part of the film?

 

READINGS FROM THE YOUCAT FOR THIS SESSION

If you are using the YouCat with your Sycamore group, please click here for general advice about the YouCat and how to use the readings. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

  • Foreword by Pope Benedict XVI [4 pages]
  • #279 to #290 – freedom and the search for happiness [6 pages]

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the YouCat and not to page numbers. The number in [square brackets] at the end tells you roughly how long this passage is in terms of the pages you need to read (excluding picture pages).

 

LONGER READINGS FROM THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

If you have more time, and if you want to go deeper into the topic of this session, you can follow up by exploring the longer Catechism of the Catholic Church. See the standard online version here, and a digital “flip-book” edition here. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the Catechism and not to page numbers. Click on the links themselves to read the paragraphs in the online version.

 

KEY IDEAS FROM THE FILM

1A – The impossibility of sitting still

We are very domestic creatures, and the idea of home is almost built into us like an internal compass. I think it explains why Grand Designs and a hundred other TV programmes about housebuilding are so popular.

On the other hand, we long for adventure, romance, and a little bit of drama. We get easily bored. The writer Jack London said that our deepest purpose is to live, and not just to exist.

You see this in all the great road movies, when the hero leaves home, willingly or unwillingly, and discovers the freedom of the road. You see this in every classic Western, when the cowboy gets on his horse and rides into the wilderness, looking for riches or romance, or both. It’s the Greek mythology of The Odyssey; it’s Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz; it’s Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings. It’s the idea of being on a quest.

There is a restlessness in every human heart. It’s good to acknowledge it now and then. We’re searching for something. We’re made for something more. It doesn’t mean I need to pack up my bags and walk out the door: probably not a good idea. But at least I can give myself permission to listen to the deepest longings of my heart and ask the question: What am I really searching for?

1B – What is happiness?

Sometimes desire is uncomplicated. We want food, friendship, freedom, love. We want the things in front of us. We want the things we don’t have. If you’ve been fired, you want a new job. If you’ve lost your keys, you want to find them. If you’re practicing for your driving test, you hope you can pass the first time. But sometimes we realise we are looking for something more.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle said we are all searching for happiness, even if we can’t agree on where to find it. He believed that true happiness is found in a life that has meaning and purpose. It’s to do with the way I live, and the kind of person I am, and not just with the things I have.

How do you know what’s really important to you? One simple way is to look in your diary, and then in your wallet. What have you spent your time and money on over the last week? It tells you a lot about your priorities and what you think is the meaning of your life.

What are we looking for? What is happiness? I don’t think there’s a simple answer. And perhaps if we think about it too much it tends to disappear. Edith Warton said: “If only we’d stop trying to be happy we could have a pretty good time”.

But imagine if you only had one hour left, or one week. What would you do? Who would you call? Where would you go? And when you get your answer, it’s still worth thinking: Is that it? Or is there something more?

1C – How to press the pause button

People are searching for more than rest or relaxation. There is a real hunger for stillness and silence, to step back from the rush of life and make space for reflection. It’s a human need; I’d even call it a spiritual need. It’s why most cultures, traditionally, have had a Sabbath day, a day of rest.

In the Bible, the prophet Elijah expected to find God in the noise of the wind and the earthquake and the fire, but in the end he found him outside the cave, in the sound of sheer silence.

Many religious traditions speak about the symbol of the desert. Leaving the city and the noise and going into the wilderness, in order to get some perspective. Not to escape to another world, but to rediscover what is truly important in your own world. The poet TS Eliot said that there are some things we can only hear “in the stillness between two waves of the sea”.

I don’t know how you personally can press the pause button. It might seem impossible. I just know how important it is. This programme, Sycamore, is partly about helping you create some space to think and reflect – whether you are using this in a group or watching it at home. If it helps – that’s great! There is lots more to come. If not, then I hope you can find another way. Don’t give up!