Fulfillment: Way better than mere happiness

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Lately I’m seeing lots of studies — or, more accurately, articles about studies — claiming that non-parents are happier than parents. The accompanying commentary essentially concludes that everybody since the beginning of time has had it wrong, that procreation and parenting are really just long roads to misery, and that young people should think twice about their plans for love, marriage and a baby carriage.

Alarmingly, I’m seeing interviews with young adults who are taking this nonsense seriously and deciding to forego having children at all in the interest of “pursuing happiness.”

And worse still are the increasingly regular reports I hear of actual parents who are deciding that this parenting thing is a drag on their social lives and are exiting family life in order to get their “happy” on. I’m not talking about people in bad or abusive or dangerous marriages who make the difficult decision to leave for truly substantive reasons. I’m talking about mothers and/or fathers who simply decide that the garden variety problems and commitments inherent in marriage and parenting are making them less “happy,” so they are exiting stage right on the assumption that a life of freedom “out there” will be more fulfilling.

This, my people, is messed up.

I get where, in the short run, the life of the childless might be easier at times. If you are up all night with a sick kid, and I am able to sleep, I am probably “happier” the next day. You, as a parent have a lot more to worry about. And worry, of course, eats into “happiness” in whatever moments are stolen by the worrying.

But there is a fundamental mistake here. These people are confusing happiness with fulfillment.

Happiness is pleasure. It is an emotion. The dictionary defines it as a “mental or emotional state.” It is fleeting, transitory, elusive. It happens in the moment. Sure, I’m happy when I get a good night’s sleep. But a couple of days later, it doesn’t really matter. Neither does the fun I had, or the money I spent, or anything else that might buy me short-term happiness. “Happiness” as a state is impossible to sustain. As soon as things get difficult, my happiness is gone. And there is nothing wrong with that. We are meant to have happy moments, and unhappy moments.

Fulfillment is different. It is deeper, more constant. It can exist underneath a full range of emotional experiences. It is possible to be unhappy in a moment and yet fulfilled on a deeper level.

I have quoted it before, and I’ll quote it a million times again. The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes says that “Man, being the only creature created for his own sake, finds himself only in a sincere gift of himself.”

We find real meaning, real fulfillment, in self-gift. In love. And that often comes in the form of sacrificing our own current “happiness” for the sake of someone else. Like losing sleep with a sick kid.  Like spending money on tuition instead of a new car.

The problem with the “pursuit of happiness” as our sole goal in life is that it detracts us from our real purpose — and hence, ironically, from real long-term happiness or fulfillment.

It is my belief that parenting — aside from bringing many, many happy moments — brings fulfillment. And, that like many other fulfilling things, it is not easy. It is not always “happy.” And that those who forego it out of a misguided desire for “happiness” are making a lifelong mistake.

I say all of this as a non-parent. I’m getting all of the “fun” that you all think you’re missing out on. And, let me tell you, “fun” doesn’t offer the love, the satisfaction, the deep-down fulfillment that is found in the joys and sacrifices of parenting.

That is not to say that the life of a non-parent isn’t or can’t be fulfilling. But our fulfillment isn’t necessarily built-in. Sometimes obligations to serve come to us. But other times we have to go looking for them — for opportunities to make a difference, to give ourselves, to matter.  When that happens, we become “spiritual” fathers or mothers — using our masculine or feminine gifts to make a difference in the lives those who are not our actual children.

Twenty years ago, I gave the graduation address at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. The theme of that talk was “Living Life from the Deathbed Backwards.” When you are on your deathbed, what will you want your life to have looked like? Will you be glad you had a lot of fun at a lot of nightclubs? Will you be satisfied that you are leaving behind a bunch of nice possessions for your relatives to fight over? Or do you want to look back on the ways the you made a difference — the lives that are here or are better because you existed?

That is the difference between happiness and fulfillment.

And, trust me, fulfillment is way better.

COMING UP: Haven’t signed to get the late-term abortion ban on the ballot? Now’s your chance

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If you haven’t had a chance to sign the petition to get Initiative 120 on the ballot this year, this weekend will present many opportunities to do so.

Initiative 120 is a ballot initiative that seeks to prohibit abortions after 22 weeks through birth, with the only exception being if the mother’s life is at risk.

See below for a full list of locations throughout Colorado so sign petitions for Initiative 120.

Sign the Petition | Drop off Notarized Packets | Notary on Site

Aurora – Queen of Peace Catholic Church
11:00 AM – 1:00 PM
13120 E Kentucky Ave, Aurora 80012
In the Narthex

Broomfield – Nativity of our Lord Catholic Church
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
900 W Midway Blvd, Broomfield 80020
Reception Desk Lower Level

Denver – Catholic Charities Office
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
4704 N. Harlan St, Denver 80212 Suite 550

Lakewood – Colorado Christian University
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
8787 W. Alameda Ave, Lakewood 80226
Beckman Center – See Map
Enter campus off Garrison, go east on Cedar

Lone Tree – Panera Bread Atrium
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
9233 Park Meadows Dr, Lone Tree 80124

Windsor – Coffee House 29
11:00 AM – 2:00 PM
1039 Main St #K, Windsor 80550
Behind McDonald’s

CO Springs So Central – Pikes Peak Citizens for Life
9:00 AM – 1:00 PM
707 N Nevada Ave #R, Colorado Springs 80903

CO Springs North – Colorado Christian University Satellite
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
1125 Kelly Johnson Blvd. Suite 105 Co Springs 80921

Castle Rock – Calvary Chapel
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
1100 Caprice Dr, Castle Rock 80109
In the Lobby

Grand Junction – The Pregnancy Center
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
930 Main Street, Grand Junction 81501
970-241-7474

Saturday, 2/15 Signing Only Events**

Colorado Springs – David C Cook Foundation
10:00 AM – 3:00 PM
4050 Lee Vance Dr. Colorado Springs 80918 Upper/east parking lot
720-899-0897

Greeley – Centerplace Shopping Center
1:30 – 3:30 PM
2700 47th Ave, Greeley 80634
Enter off 47th Ave – Look for the sign east of the bank in the parking lot

** No notary at these locations

Sunday, 2/16 Signing Event**

Glenwood Springs – New Creation Church
8:30, 10:30 AM and 6:00 PM Services
44761 US-6, Glenwood Springs, CO 81601
217-891-6116

Ongoing Opportunities to Sign

Aurora – Iglesia Rey de Reyes Church
Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri 6:00 – 8:00 PM
Saturdays 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
380 S Potomac Street #110 Aurora, 80012
720-899-0897

Boulder – Boulder County GOP Office
Weekdays (M-F) 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
619 Ken Pratt Blvd, Longmont 80501

Greeley – Farmers Insurance
Weekdays (M-F) 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM, Saturdays 9:00 AM – noon
2990 W 29th St. #1, Greeley 80631

Loveland – Loveland Glass
Weekdays (M-F) 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
630 W 1st Street, Loveland 80537

Windsor – Guardian Self Storage
Mondays and Thursdays 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM Through February 15th
760 E. Garden Dr., Windsor 80550

Colorado Springs – Eddington Eye Care
Weekdays (M-F) 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM (Exception, Thursdays, open 10-6)
6130 Barnes Rd. Suite 128, Colorado Springs 80922

Castle Rock – Calvary Chapel
Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Wednesdays 8:00 AM – 3:00 PM
1100 Caprice Dr. Castle Rock 80109 (Reception Desk)

Ft. Collins – Larimer County GOP Office
Weekdays (M-F) 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM
4020 S College Ave #11, Fort Collins 80525

Woodland Park – Charis Bible College
Weekdays (M-F) 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM
800 Gospel Truth Way, Woodland Park 80863

Estes Park – Ponderosa Realty
Weekdays (M-F) 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
1751 N Lake Ave. Suite 104, Estes Park 80517

Pueblo – A Caring Pregnancy Center
Weekdays (M-Th) 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM
500 Colorado Ave, Pueblo 81004

Montrose – Life Choices Family Resource Center
Tuesdays & Thursdays 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM, Wednesdays 10:00 AM – 7 PM
155 Merchant Drive, Montrose 81403
970-249-4302

Pueblo West – Majestic Baptist Church
Sundays 9:30 – 11:30 AM
494 E Hemlock Dr, Pueblo West 81007

Julesburg – Benson Ag Land Realty
Weekdays (M-F) 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM, 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
200 W 4th Street, Julesburg 80737

Denver – La Prensa de Colorado Newspaper
Monday – Thursday from 12:00 PM to 6:30 PM or by appointment
7290 Samuel Drive, #105 Denver 80221
303-287-4105