Labelled the “People’s Pontiff” by Vanity Fair Magazine, Pope Francis has charted a new path for Catholicism in the 21st century and is a consummate model for humility and compassion. It is these traits and his ongoing support for taking action on climate change that made me eager to dig into his newest book, Happiness in this Life: A Passionate Meditation on Earthly Existence. The English translation is brought to life by Oonagh Stransky, in her second translation of a book by the Holy Father (the first was The Name of God is Mercy).
Happiness in this Life is a collection of homilies, speeches, and messages that the Pope has delivered over the span of about five years (and counting) as leader of the Catholic Church.
The title of the book felt a bit misleading, for the book was more of a broader guide to living a good, fulfilling and joyful life, than simply finding happiness. It wasn’t anything like, for example, Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project” or “Happier at Home”. But then, this is the Holy Father, not a self-help author.
Pope Francis addresses a broad swath of topics ranging from technology (“We need witnesses of hope and true joy if we are to dispel the chimeras, the illusions that promise easy happiness through artificial paradises”) to empathy and selflessness (“Ask yourselves: Have I learned to weep? Do I weep when I see a hungry child, homeless child? Or are my tears the selfish tears of someone who wants something for himself?”). There are regular Biblical references, but the text is still accessible even for those who don’t feel particularly bible-literate.
Additionally, in what might be my favourite section, the final pages are exclusively devoted to insights about the power of prayer and specific prayers you can recite yourself, including an invocation for peace. It is here as well that the Pope discusses his own happiness which coexists with the context of challenges and adversity in daily life. Once again, he displays his humility: “This happiness sees the problems, it endures them and then it moves on […] in the depths of my heart there is peace and happiness, because of God’s grace […] not my merit.”
I found this book tricky to pick up and read for any length of time as it was hard to find a sense of flow from passage to passage. Though I believe it could be a great daily reader, or one you turn to in times of need, I wouldn’t recommend it for curling up beside the fire on a quiet day.
We are so fortunate to have so many grounded and inspiring teachers in the world with us today who work tirelessly to help us see the nature of our ego, and the peace that faith can bring. Regardless of your own spiritual or religious beliefs, the perspectives and the teachings Pope Francis offers are sure to comfort and inspire.
Amy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.