I guess my inspiration was a long-brewing sense of discontent with how we understand happiness in our affluent, consumer societies today, and also the discontent of seeing Christians buying into this general understanding – that we are happy when we find pleasure, comfort, ease, success – without thinking it through critically, and with how we just substitute the self-help steps to happiness with Christian terminology. I wanted to go back to Jesus and his paradoxical invitation for us to lose life in order to gain life, and let his call deconstruct our current approaches and point to his subversive alternative. So, curiously, in a book on happiness I end up talking a lot about selflessness, self-giving, and forgetting about our own happiness.
I feel that I am happiest when I am least self-conscious and when I sense I am giving of myself and connecting with other people. That happens, usually, when I’m with my family, congregation, with people that I care about, and when I feel I’m expressing to people the heart of my vocation and what I sense I have to offer, be it in public speaking, interacting with people one-on-one, or writing. I enjoy, of course, a good relaxing day, but I feel that my most enduring moments happen when I feel I’m contributing something, giving some part of myself away, and of course also receiving in return.
I hope that when people finish the book they are of course happier, but that their lives are more serene and joyous because they are less self-oriented and more self-forgetful, because they long to contribute, love, and give more than they want to get. I hope also people finish the book in wonder with the genius of Jesus’ vision of life and more willing to follow this Jesus, even if his path is a cruciform one. In the end, I want readers to come out of the book less worried about their own happiness and so find themselves, paradoxically, happier than before.
The Paradox of Happiness is my first book, and it helped me see that I love writing and that I want to continue to write for the rest of my life. To see sentence after sentence appear on the page, and to see them making sense, at least to me, was a beautiful and intense process. I can still remember some key moments vividly, like when I was stuck in one of the chapters and had an insight all of a sudden, or the sunny morning when I wrote the last paragraphs of the book. The process of giving birth to the book also confirmed to me the central message I try to get across in it: that life, and happiness, is not about how much you get but how much you give. I hope this book can become a gift in people’s lives.
Yes, I’m currently working on a memoir narrating my experience of becoming a father. I’m having a load of fun with it, also because I weave in the tensions involved in being a father, in being a new arrival in another country, and being a pastor of a church. You know, trying to juggle a session of counseling at a family’s house while your kids jump on the couple’s bed and while their diapers’ aroma rises as a fragrant offering unto the Lord. It has been also a more personal and difficult book to write, involving soul work, analyzing the arc of my life, and laughing or tearing up by myself at times. It covers the year when Pietro, our first boy, was born and when we transitioned from Brazil to Italy.