Happy people: We’re contagious!

Happiness, according to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, is contagious, and happy people seem to attract and be attracted to other happy people, creating networks of like-emotions among close family members, friends and others.

These findings might not seem earthshaking. But the study, which was conducted by researchers from Harvard University and Medical School and the University of California-San Diego, offers interesting implications for people who live with serious, chronic illness and pain.

The study began in 1983 in Massachusetts. It was an offshoot of the Framingham Heart Study that set out in 1948 to identify the common factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease by following its development over a long period of time in a large group of participants.

Participants in the 1983 study were the offspring of the original Framingham study cohort and included both adult men and women. There were 4,729 participants in all.

Happiness was seen as consisting of “positive emotions,” and, after the participants' social networks were identified, their degree of happiness was measured by asking them how often each participant experienced certain feelings during the previous week.

Moral ‘bad habits’ lead to serious sin

Acid-tongue comedian George Carlin passed away last year. I never cared for his sophomoric brand of humor, especially after his profane references for women who picket abortion clinics. Catholics have a much kinder brand of humor suitable for all ages. One of my favorite Catholic jokes asks, “Did you hear the one about the nun with loose habits?” It’s quick and to the point.

“Habit” is a word we don’t hear very much any more, either as an item of clothing or as a repetitive act of sinful behavior. In today’s secular climate all bad habits seem to be excusable because of the social circumstances of the sinner. Secular society plays down any individual responsibility for sin or vice. So deep is the fear of being labeled  judgmental that society has attributed a multitude of sinful behaviors to extraneous excuses, which have virtually exonerated the guilty parties of any individual guilt.

Somewhere during the last half-century, Americans lost their deep, dark sense of sin that used to irritate the conscience so that a sinner would rush to the confessional. Now society only judges wrongs as collective sins. This idea has become the standard conventional wisdom of our modern society, which teaches that alienated groups, such as conservatives, the religious right and abortion abolitionists, commit a collective sin by opposing societal progress and refusing to free themselves from the superstitious past when religion and churches ruled men’s behavior. 

‘Honor her mother’ as commanded by God

Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends. The highest human exhibition of love that earth has ever seen was this. Christ was about to exhibit this highest type of human love by dying for his friends (John 15:13-14).

There are times in one’s life when the simple act of a daughter’s love for her mother becomes sacred, filled with sanctified grace flowing from both mother and daughter. I was privileged to witness such a moment recently.

By God’s grace, a window was open figuratively and I was able to see a woman I’ve come to admire and respect over the few months help her mother with the dignity and compassion I could have only dreamed of showing my own mom in such a fashion.

This occasion made me admire this friend I have come to respect even more than when we entered that nursing facility for our short visit. In that short time, my friend affirmed through her actions that she truly does “honor her mother” as commanded by God in Sacred Scripture.

I sat there in awe as I watched my friend help her mom transfer from her walker to a recliner. It was something I couldn’t have done for my own mom, but would have in a moment if I could have; this friend, a neighbor of mine, is truly blessed.

The unfading beauty of the hidden heart

There is an old saying that beauty under the age of 40 is an accident; beauty over the age of 40 is an achievement. Physical beauty is a commodity today and sells anything from cars to mutual funds. It can help land the job at the interview or get an offer of a seat on a crowded bus. Beauty, no matter what age, opens doors.

What about inner beauty? We are drawn to outward signs of beauty or attractiveness and often expect what is on the outside to be reflected on the inside. Consider the international phenomenon that the not-so-beautiful-on-the-outside, middle-aged Scottish woman, Susan Boyle, caused a few weeks ago with her performance on Britain’s Got Talent, bringing the world to tears with the hidden beauty of her singing voice.

Was it Ms. Boyle’s melodious pitch-perfect voice that caused this reaction, or the surprise that the outward appearance did not match the inward gifts?

St. Peter speaks specifically of women and of the hidden person of the heart, which goes beyond just talent to true inner beauty, when he writes, “let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1Peter 3:4).

Painful assumptions and the power of the Holy Spirit

My 52-year-old brother, Bart, died unexpectedly from a heart problem.

His physicians assumed that he was almost always in a pain-free, semi-coma state when he was in the intensive care unit from Dec. 29 until his death Jan. 12 of this year.

I assumed that Bart would live to be 90, just like our dad. I was baffled, heartbroken and grief-stricken by Bart’s untimely death. Being ethical, honest and kind was of utmost importance to him. He had an ability to honor, respect and encourage people. He was successful at work, an excellent athlete with a fourth-degree black belt in aikido, and had several close friends.

He had dozens of visitors when he was in the hospital — five of his closest friends saw my brother almost every day. Bart had family and friends praying for and loving him nearly 24 hours a day. He received the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick shortly after he arrived at the hospital and again by a priest just before he died.

The imperative of fraternal correction is alive and well

Every September, the Congregation for Bishops in Rome hosts a seminar for newly ordained bishops from around the world; the seminar is widely known, at least sotto voce, as “Baby Bishops’ School.” I have a modest suggestion for the curriculum: Everyone attending the seminar should be given a copy of the classic World War II novel, “Twelve O’Clock High,” which is far less a story of B-17s over Europe than a lesson in paternal, masculine leadership.

About halfway through the book, when General Frank Savage has dramatically reversed the disastrous morale of the 918th Heavy Bombardment Group by ignoring an order and hitting a difficult target, a once-skeptical lieutenant (and Medal of Honor winner), Jesse Bishop, admits that he’s misread the fiery commander and asks Savage if he’d “mind very much kicking me in the tail?” Bishop bends over, Savage obliges — and then asks the youngster to do him a favor: “All right, Jesse ... I want you to be the one guy in the group that doesn’t believe I’m a general. That door is always open. Any time you think I’m not doing so hot, come in and tell me. Let me know what the boys are thinking. I need you plenty, and I’ll count on you to keep me straightened out.”

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