Emotional Virtue & the True Path to Happiness

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance. – Ecclesiastes 3

Emotions pepper our human experience. The memories we form – good or bad – are treasured in our minds precisely because the emotions behind them make them significant. But while the human heart is capable of the highest degrees of heroism, because of original sin, our feelings can at times become disordered and fall prey to base instincts.

Christian morality gives great importance to guiding and orienting our human feelings because they influence our ability to live a happy and harmonious life. Because sin has introduced disorder to the human heart that needs to be set right, learning to guide the emotions requires fortitude and an ongoing commitment to improvement.

Educating the Emotions

Educating our emotions involves training our feelings so that they lead us to feel good about what leads to a happy and holy life, and to feel bad about the opposite. Personal happiness and sanctity will be achieved the better we can attain this.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks to the importance of incorporating our feelings as we struggle for holiness: “Moral perfection consists in man’s being moved to the good not by his will alone, but also by his sensitive appetite, as in the words of the psalm: ‘My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God,’” (CCC 1770) because “either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy” (CCC 2339).

I’m sure that we all have experienced that doing what is good might not at times seem very attractive, or we may not feel happy after doing what is right. For that reason, our emotions are not an infallible moral guide. However, that doesn’t mean that we should thrust them aside; rather, we should guide them so that they help us to do what is good and attain happiness. For example, if someone feels guilt about lying and satisfaction about being sincere, this is beneficial to our formation. Likewise, if one feels saddened or uneasy about selfishness, laziness, unjust actions, or disloyalty, these emotions will help us to act in ways that are good and just.

When we accept our emotions as a gift given to us by God, we can realize that He wants us to use the power of our passions and our will towards what is truly good. By cultivating and guiding our feelings, we will be able to receive sound guidance from them, and it will be easier to live a virtuous life and achieve holiness in our ordinary tasks.

*Inspired by the September Executive Speaker Series presentation made by Jim Bearden.


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