This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain in our own lives, while also teaching our Sunday Church School students to pursue them, as well. We have chosen to focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to help ourselves and our students to grow in theosis, we must learn to not only resist and repent from those sins, but we must also learn to desire and labor to attain the virtues. May the Lord have mercy on us and on our students as together we pursue these virtues!
Happiness is the next virtue we will want to help our Sunday Church School students learn about. The feeling of happiness should be familiar to all of our students, and it may be difficult for them to understand the difference between earthly happiness and the virtue of happiness. Here is one way to help to explain it:
1. Give each student a small consumable gift from a larger collection (for example, a jelly bean from a big bag of them). Allow them to eat their piece. Talk about how they felt when you gave it to them, and while they were eating it. Probably they felt happy! Now that it’s gone, how do they feel? Chances are they are not happy anymore, maybe even they feel sad because it is gone. Hold the bag (still containing candy) where the students can see it. Eat a piece or two. Talk about how they feel about you eating it in front of them. Most likely they will express jealousy and/or ask for more candy.
2. Explain that the happiness they felt when they ate their piece was earthly happiness. It is just here for a minute and then is gone; and is often based on a thing (in this case, a piece of candy) that can be taken away from them or is finished after they use it (or eat it). That is the kind of happiness that many people try to get in their lives. They buy more stuff, work harder so they have more money, and try to get happy with that stuff and money. Ask your students, “Does it work? Does it make them really happy, or just happy for a moment?”
3. Remind the students that we are working on virtues, which are like inner riches which don’t go away. When we work on living in a virtuous way, we live more like how God would want us to live. Happiness, virtuous happiness, is what God wants for all of us. This kind of happiness will not run out or go away. And if we are living in true happiness, we won’t feel jealous of others, no matter what they have that we do not. Envy, or “jealousy of someone else’s happiness,” is actually the opposite of true happiness. It is the sin we are fighting against when we pursue the virtue of happiness! But how do we not just run after happy feelings? What can we do to get virtuous happiness in our life?
4. Share Fr. Dn. Charles Joiner’s article, “17 Points to Create True Happiness With Your Work and Life,” (see link below) with older students and discuss each point with them as you do so. If you have younger students, select a few of the points to share as a starting place for pursuing virtue. For example, you could share:
A. “Don’t compare yourself to others.” Discuss the fact that when we compare ourselves to others, we stop thinking about how God made each of us unique because He needs someone like us to be in His world. Instead of thinking how we can’t do the same things as others, we need to focus on what we are able to do, and then go and do that to the best of our ability. Also, when we see someone else doing something well, we fight jealousy whenever we congratulate them and when we thank God that they are able to do what they’re good at doing!
B. “Give thanks to God for everything.” Talk about how we do not have control over everything, nor do we understand why God allows some things to happen. We also often don’t understand His timing, either. But if we thank Him for everything- not just the nice things that happen to us, we will be building the virtue of happiness in our life.
C. “Remember the Jesus Prayer.” Praying to God all day long helps us to remember that He is always with us. The Jesus Prayer is a simple but very good prayer that we can pray all day long. The more we remember God and speak to him, the more happiness we will experience in our life.
D. “Choose your friends carefully.” If we are not careful who we choose to be with, we may end up with friends who only care about worldly happiness, who complain about their life, or who are jealous of others and try to make us wish we had stuff or friends that we do not have. Choosing friends who live in a way that helps us to choose the virtue of happiness over the sin of jealousy is another way we can pursue happiness!
5. As you share each point, ask your students for any examples of that point that they can offer. Chances are that someone in the class can make a connection to a story they know or an experience they’ve had that can help the whole class learn more about that particular way to work on attaining the virtue of happiness. Perhaps they have a suggestion of how to work on that point that wasn’t mentioned, as well.
6. Ask the students to take a minute to think about which point(s) they think they need to work on in their fight against jealousy and their pursuit of the virtue of happiness. If you have time, invite a response in the form of a resolution. It could be written or drawn, and may remain private if the student wishes it to.
7. Remind the students of how happy they felt while eating the piece of candy at the beginning of the lesson. Then invite them to compare that to a time when they have worked on one of the points just mentioned. How does the quickly-passing feeling of happiness compare with the deep-seated virtue of happiness? Ask which one they should spend their time working to attain.
8. Pray and ask for God’s blessing on each of you as you work toward true happiness.
Here are two craft ideas which could be used as a follow up to a lesson on the virtue of happiness:
- Consider working together as a class to create an Orthodox version of this: http://www.cjophoto.com/2014/11/inspirational-quote-jar-printable.html. Instead of inspirational quotes, however, look together for quotes from Church Fathers and scripture about happiness and joy. Whoever finds one can write it on a small slip of paper and put it into the jar, which you could label “A Heap of Happiness” or “The Joy Jar.” Collect the quotes over time, and at the end of the year, type all of the quotes/verses and give each student a copy. They can cut them apart and fill their own jar. (Which you could decorate in class, if you have time!)
- Help each student make their own happiness jar and encourage them to fill it by noticing (and writing down) a moment of happiness that they have experienced every day as suggested here: https://www.mommypotamus.com/gratitude-happiness-jar/
Find Fr. Dn. Charles Joiner’s article, “17 Points to Create True Happiness With Your Work and Life,” here: http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2015/05/17-points-to-create-true-happiness-with.html
Here are some quotes and ideas that can help you teach your Sunday Church School students about the virtue of happiness:
Discuss this quote with your middle or upper-years students: “Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward and learning to enjoy whatever life has and this requires transforming greed into gratitude.” ~St. John Chrysostom
Study the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov, looking specifically at how he pursued the virtue of happiness:
“An icon of inexpressible joy offered by God to the world in recent centuries is the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov (1759–1813).2 All the saints of God, by being God-bearers, carried in their bosoms unbounded joy and passed it to all who gathered around them. St. Seraphim, however, was exceptional. Though he was a monk he chose not to don the traditional black cassock, but wore throughout the year a white one. Rather than saying, “Christ is risen,” only for the forty days of Pascha, as is customary, he employed this greeting every day of the year. He greeted his visitors, who included the likes of the Tsar and Tsaritsa of Russia, universally as “My joy.”
His entire life was spent in the quest to acquire the Holy Spirit. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you ….If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (St. Luke 11:9,13). St. Seraphim knocked. For a thousand days and nights he remained upon a rock in prayer. St. Seraphim asked and St. Seraphim received. The Holy Spirit came upon him in great measure, and the fruit of the Spirit’s presence was inexpressible joy. “For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” (Galatians 5:22).” ~ from “Cultivating Inexpressible Joy,” by V. Rev. Josiah Trenham, Ph.D. Read more here: http://www.antiochian.org/node/25366
Find more about St. Seraphim here: http://www.antiochian.org/learning-about-saint-st-seraphim-sarov
These books are not Orthodox, but could be a helpful starting point for a children’s lesson on happiness: http://www.whatdowedoallday.com/childrens-books-about-happiness/
Watch this 10-minute (not Orthodox, but serviceable for a lesson on happiness) video about Johnny Barnes, a man in Bermuda who has chosen to live his life in an extraordinary way. Talk together about his life. Is Johnny happy? How do you know? Who did he say helps him to be happy? What does he do that shows his happiness? How does it affect those around him? What can we learn from Johnny? https://www.globalonenessproject.org/library/films/mr-happy-man
This episode of “Be the Bee” encourages its watchers to ponder true happiness. It would be a great addition to a middle-years lesson on happiness! http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/bethebee/love_and_happiness
Teens and adult Sunday Church School students will greatly benefit by reading this blog post listing 17 things that Orthodox Christians can do to pursue happiness: “17 Points to Create True Happiness With Your Work and Life,” by Fr. Dn. Charles Joiner, http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2015/05/17-points-to-create-true-happiness-with.html . Read the article together and discuss it. Encourage each student to select one or two points which they intend to improve in, and give them time to talk or journal about how they plan to make the improvement happen.
After studying happiness from an Orthodox perspective, encourage older Sunday Church School students to read this (secular) “15 Step Guide to Happiness” and evaluate it through the lens of our Faith: https://draxe.com/how-to-be-happy/. After watching it, discuss it. How does this guide hit true happiness on the head? Are there any ways in which it is not describing true happiness?
This short meditation by Abbot Tryphon will challenge its listeners to choose happiness: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/morningoffering/choosing_happiness