I recently watched 'Reluctant Saint' on the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, and predictably, it's got me probing the value of material comforts. (I know Saint Francis is one of the best-known saints, but I didn't realize what a hard life he committed himself to; utter poverty, disease, caring for lepers, eventually contracting leprosy himself.)
After watching the film, the question I feel convicted to ask myself is-- where do I derive satisfaction in life? I've decided to start evaluating my days by asking myself, where did I find ____(happiness/peace/joy) today? Reality is that things and experiences (like a vacation) bring pleasure, but not joy. I maintain only relationship with God and others can bring true joy. So if I rely on a trip to the mall, or a great meal with friends to bring me happiness, I'm selling myself short of the deeper joy that life with God offers, as well as ignoring God. These things are not bad in and of themselves-- after all, God created things like eating to be pleasurable, but there has to be balance. I need to be grounded in God on a daily basis, not just floating on the events that make up any given day. I think that largely, the American ideal of life has become to lead a pleasant one, and it takes some deliberate thought to recognize that this ideal pervades our lives. It's all too easy to run around satisfied with how well we are achieving our personal goals, or to look forward to the future because of a fun activity planned, but these things are not the life God offers us, nor do they allow us to offer life to others. How diminished the impact of people like St. Francis, or Mother Teresa would be if they had simply decided to live a pleasant, comfortable life.
Joy is not the same as pleasure or happiness. A wicked and evil man may have pleasure, while any ordinary mortal is capable of being happy. Pleasure generally comes from things, and always through the senses; happiness comes from humans through fellowship. Joy comes from loving God and neighbor. Pleasure is quick and violent, like a flash of lightning. Joy is steady and abiding, like a fixed star. Pleasure depends on external circumstances, such as money, food, travel, etc. Joy is independent of them, for it comes from a good conscience and love of God.
-Fulton J. Sheen, "Guide to Contentment"