Last year I had the opportunity to hear New York Times Bestselling Author and incredible public speaker, Matthew Kelly, give a seminar at my parents’ church outside Indianapolis. What I’ll admit I attended reluctantly because there seemed like many other ways I could spend a Saturday turned out to be a truly energizing experience with lasting inspiration. Matthew is the founder of Dynamic Catholic, a nonprofit organization that works to revitalize local parishes and bring people back to the Church. Matthew’s book Resisting Happiness had just come out at the time, but like the title implies, for some reason I resisted picking up a copy. I’m glad I finally did. This is a quick read that is almost reminiscent of a devotional format. Each chapter is only a few pages long and concludes with a key point and action step. I read it in 3 sittings, although I may revisit it by going one chapter per day to give myself more time to fully reflect on Matthew’s ideas.
The book focuses on resistance that comes from living in a comfort zone that does not push us to our full potential and keeping habits that don’t reinforce who God wants us to be. The concept of resistance “loves keeping us busy with anything but the one thing that will most help us grow.” When you consciously adopt this frame of mind when coming upon things to do or problems to solve, it is interesting to see how much we notice the resistance that is all around us. When we stay busy doing everything but the right things, we stay stuck and don’t grow into the people we have the potential to become. By staying with the path of least resistance, it is easy to develop routines and rhythms of negativity. For example, we procrastinate by watching television, eat when we’re not hungry, or constantly check on social media to avoid doing more important things. These are small actions that really amount to serious patterns that surrender our power and potential.
The solution to overcoming these challenges? Resistance hates discipline and self-control. Matthew recommends saying ‘no’ to yourself at least once every day. This was surprisingly easy to do once I made myself aware of it. Instead of having a soda later in the day, I switched to water. Instead of having dessert, I made myself do something away from the kitchen so I wouldn’t be tempted to snack. To be honest, those were things I usually would have done without a second thought, but once I was on the lookout for one thing I could deny myself, it became much easier to see what habits weren’t critical to hold onto. It’s hard to imagine making big changes overnight, but by starting small with just one thing a day, it was very easy to work into my daily thought process.
Matthew describes how we become desensitized to sin and negative habits through an example I can certainly relate to- cluttered vehicles. He talks about how one day we take a jacket with us in case it rains and when it doesn’t we decide to leave it in the back seat and return it to the house later. Another time we bring a book in the car with us but end up not needing to take it into the office, leaving it in the backseat. We eat a meal while driving and leave the bag of fast food trash in the back seat, thinking we’ll throw it away later. While we didn’t consciously set out to make a mess, the more messy our car becomes the less careful we are with it. There is already so much clutter in the back seat, we throw one more piece of trash on the pile without noticing. “After a while, a big self-destructive behavior doesn’t look that bad among all those little self-destructive behaviors,” Kelly writes. If anyone has ever seen my messy vehicle, this concept really hits home! While it’s hard to keep everything neat and clean with two boys who like to leave their pop-tart wrappers in the back, this was a perfect example of how easy it can be to give ourselves permission to accept less than what we’re fully capable of.
Matthew compares the foundational habits we need to adopt as if we are building a skyscraper. “Developing spiritual vitality is like building a skyscraper,” he shares. “You start by going down. You dig deep into the earth to create a foundation to support the huge structure. The higher you want to build the structure, the deeper you have to dig into the earth to begin with.” This metaphor reminded me that we never get “good enough” at developing good habits to ease up and think we have it all figured out. The more self-aware we get, the more we need to resist the temptation to not keep our foundations strong. It will be tempting to reach a goal and then revert to old habits, but if we want to maintain and grow in our progress, the deeper our foundation must reach.
Matthew also discusses time management, and how most people don’t put the most important things on their schedules. Things like time with children, exercise, and spiritual practices are critically important but not usually urgent, which is why he recommends intentionally scheduling time for them. As you’ve read in my previous writing, this is a practice I wholeheartedly believe in!
The only disappointment I had was that there weren’t more personal stories and examples, which made it feel like Matthew was stretching a bit to fill content for the book. Perhaps it was because many of the points he made were also included in the talk I heard him give, but it felt a bit redundant. However, since he has a whole chapter on why not to listen to critics, I will focus on the positives, which were many! Overall, an easy read full of thought-provoking questions and practical exercises that push us to reclaim our happiness by overcoming resistant habits.