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The Duty of Happiness

The Fairest enchants me,
The Mighty commands me,
Saying, 'Stand in thy place
Up and Eastward turn thy Face,
So thou attend the enriching fate
Which none can stay, and none accelerate.
—Emerson

The World Beautiful

After all, it rests with ourselves as to whether we shall live in a World Beautiful. It depends little on external scenery, little on those circumstances outside our personal control. Like the kingdom of heaven, it is not a locality, but a condition. It is a spiritual state, and depends on our degree of receptivity to the influence of the Holy Spirit. We have all of us met persons whose very presence is a benediction; who harmonize and tranquilize those about them, and with whom we feel on a higher and serener plane. The world is distinctively the better for these benignant spirits; but such lives are not only to be enjoyed, not only to be recognized and appreciated, but to be lived as well. As the poet has it:

Be thou the true man thou dost seek!
—John Greenleaf Whittier

If one admires the patience, gentleness, sweetness, and unfailing energy of another; if he finds himself renewed and invigorated and inspired by such contact—why does he not himself so live that he may bring the same renewal and inspiration to others? The responsibility is on each and all of us to live on the ideal plane; to realize in outward action, in every deed and word, those qualities which we recognize as pertaining to the higher life. For it is these that produce the spiritual. And to live this higher life is to live in happiness, even in holiness. It is the life of peace and love and joy; it is the life of larger sympathies, and, as a result, of larger interests. The more liberal the sympathy, the more is the interest of life extended; and the more extended one's range of interests, the more does one multiply the means and resources of happiness.

There has been of late a new form of philanthropic work which is known by the general name of 'college settlements.' It is simply for one individual, or several, to go into the poorer quarters of a city, and live as a neighbor to the ignorant, the defective, the very poor, or the degraded. It is less a mission than it is a ministry—the natural and informal ministry of right-doing. It is to found a home which shall be a standing object-lesson in better ways of living; which shall illustrate the beauty of order, of cleanliness, of gentle ways, of generous thoughtfulness, of friendly sympathy. The men and women who are doing this do not keep a house of correction, or a house of refuge, or an asylum of any kind. They keep a home. They do not go out into the highways and the byways to preach or to teach, ostensibly, but they endeavor so to order their lives as to give constantly the indirect teaching of example. Perhaps it is no exaggeration to say that to a greater or less degree they show forth the beauty of holiness. There is a twofold blessing in such living as this—it blesses him who gives and him who takes—and perhaps of all forms of humanitarian work it is the one best calculated to effect good results.

But if the larger number of people wait to make some specific change in life before endeavoring to realize their higher ideals in conduct, if a change of location and general rearrangement and readjustment of method and detail must precede the better living, then will it be more than likely to be indefinitely postponed.

Why, indeed, should not the principle of the college settlement be carried into living under the usual surroundings? Why not fill one's usual place in life, do one's usual work—meet the customary duties, pleasures, courtesies, only meeting them from new motives, and inspiring the duties with higher purposes? It is not only the poor, the ignorant, or even the degraded, who need to have good done them; who need the sunniness of hope, the sweetness of content, the renewal of courage, the unfaltering devotion to heroism. People are not necessarily rich in happiness or in hope, because they live in more or less luxury of the material comforts and privileges of life. There is just as much need of the ministry of higher ideals to the comfortable as to the uncomfortable, to the intelligent as to the ignorant, to those who are reaching forward after truth and progress as to those who are receding from them. There is a vast amount of enthusiasm in the world over helping the unfortunate and defected and degraded classes, and so far as this zeal is genuine and discreet it is to be commended; but the righteous as well as the sinner, the moral as well as the immoral, the refined as well as the rude, are not altogether unworthy some degree of both private and public consideration.

Unfailing thoughtfulness of others in all those trifles that make up daily contact in daily life, sweetness of spirit, the exhilaration of gladness and of joy, and that exaltation of feeling which is the inevitable result of mental peace and loving thought—these make up the World Beautiful, in which each one may live as in an atmosphere always attending his presence.

Like the kingdom of heaven, the World Beautiful is within; and it is not only a privilege, but an absolute duty, so to live that we are always in its atmosphere. Happiness, like health, is the normal state; and when this is not felt, the cause should be looked for, just as in illness the causes should be scrutinized and removed.

Live in the sweet, sunny atmosphere of serenity and light and exaltation—in that love and loveliness that creates the World Beautiful.

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Lilian Whiting

  • Born on October 3rd, 1859 in Niagara Falls, New York and died in 1942
  • Author and journalist
  • Edited The Boston Traveler and The Boston Budget
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