Resisting Happiness: An Interview with Matthew Kelly
A few years ago I discovered Steven Pressfield’s bestselling book, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. It’s one of the few books that I finished, immediately re-read, and then raved about to anyone who would listen.
Pressfield’s diagnosis of what haunts all writers and artists—he calls it Resistance—is spot on. We all know Resistance. It’s the muggy force that keeps you stuck in life. It prevents you from doing what you long to do. It’s the inner naysayer, the inertia, the roadblock that stops you from finishing new things, whether it’s starting that business, writing that book, or painting that masterpiece. If you’ve ever sat down to work on something and felt distracted, timid, or hopeless, you’ve met Resistance.
But Pressfield offers a way forward. His punchy book is full of strategies to overcome Resistance, and the advice works. In fact, I don’t think I would have written a single book if he hadn’t encouraged me to “just show up,” to park myself in front of a computer and write every day whether I felt inspired or empty.
But when you read Pressfield, who isn’t a religious believer, it’s hard to not to think, “Ah! You’re so close! You’ve found the enemy, stared him in the eyes, but you’re only seeing one side of him. You’re like Plato in the cave. You’ve conquered the shadows but there’s more to the Enemy than that!” Pressfield may call his malevolent force Resistance, but we Christians know it as a person and by another name: either the Enemy, or the Devil, or to use St. Paul’s language, “the principalities and powers who rule this world of darkness” (Eph 6:12). There are powerful unseen forces in this world that want to keep you stuck, that want to hold you back from sharing your gifts and ultimately finding true happiness.
I’ve been wishing for years that a Christian author would baptize Pressfield’s ideas and create a more spiritually discerning version of The War of Art, one that would see Resistance’s full face and then offer the Church’s vast spiritual antidotes against it.
Well, finally someone’s done it—and not just anyone, but one of the most effective Catholic writers of our generation, Matthew Kelly.
Matthew is a New York Times bestselling author and the founder of Dynamic Catholic, an evangelization ministry whose mission is to re-energize the Catholic Church in America. They do this through world-class formation programs and their super popular book program, which has distributed more than 10 million Catholic books to parishes. The books are typically passed out free on Christmas and Easter to engage disengaged Catholics.
Matthew’s newest book, Resisting Happiness (Dynamic Catholic, 2016), has that same goal. Like Pressfield, Matthew reveals the main foe standing between us and happiness. We know the things that make us happy, but we don’t do them. Why? Because of Resistance. Yet Matthew goes further than Pressfield, showing how faith in God, an active prayer life, service to others, and a relationship with Jesus are the ultimate ways to vanquish this Enemy.
What I like most is that the book is written (intentionally) in plain language that anyone would feel comfortable with. There’s no overtly-religious jargon. In fact, you would hardly know it’s a religious book from the cover or by scanning the Table of Contents. You’ll feel comfortable handing this book to a non-religious friend or family member, as a way into the Christian life, even if God isn’t currently on their radar.
I also like Matthew’s Augustinian approach here, encouraging readers to survey their restless lives and ask, why I am not happy? Why does my heart long for something more than money, power, pleasure, or honor? And where can I find that? How can I fill my restless heart? Those are questions everyone is asking, consciously or not.
Today, I sit down with Matthew to discuss his new book and how we can all find true happiness in life. Enjoy!
(NOTE: You can pre-order Resisting Happiness on Amazon, but Dynamic Catholic has some HUGE discounts when you buy two or more copies.)
BRANDON VOGT: You’ve said before in interviews that every book has a life of its own. What about the life of this book?
MATTHEW KELLY: For more than twenty years, I have resisted (pun intended) writing about myself. As I started writing this book, it quickly became apparent that in order to do it very well, I was going to have to make myself vulnerable and reveal myself to the reader on a whole new level. As an introvert and a deeply private person, I found this to be very, very difficult.
BRANDON: Who did you have in mind when writing this book?
MATTHEW: I wanted to write a book that would speak deeply into the lives of two groups. First and foremost, the marginal or disengaged Catholic. I wanted to write a book that began with something we all struggle with and led to the realization that without God at the center of our lives, we don’t really stand a chance of having the happiness we all desire. Along the way, I wanted to teach them how to pray and give them the building blocks for a solid spiritual life.
The second group I wanted to write for was committed Catholics. Many of us who are committed Catholics have gaps in our spiritual development. I wanted to share my early conversion journey with them so they could continue to build a solid inner life.
It is, of course, very difficult to write for both of these groups. But these are the people who come to Church at Christmas, and I wanted to write a book that was perfectly suited to our Christmas Book Program. I think I have succeeded, but we will only know when the emails and reviews begin to flow in.
BRANDON: How does this book tie in with the mission of Dynamic Catholic to “re-energize the Catholic Church in America by developing world-class resources that inspire people to rediscover the genius of Catholicism”?
MATTHEW: Books change our lives. I have seen it. The Book Program has proved it again and again. It is amazing how many people come back to church and get more involved in their parish because someone hands them a book at Christmas Mass. It’s really incredible. I was skeptical at first, but it just works.
To re-energize the Church we need to trigger people into engagement. The book program has become a proven and trusted way to do that. So writing this book with that specific purpose in mind ties perfectly into the Dynamic Catholic mission of meeting people where they are and leading them to where they are called to be, of engaging the disengaged, or triggering conversion, all in order to re-energize the Catholic Church in America.
BRANDON: How can someone use this book to begin a dialog with a friend or family member who has walked away from the Church?
MATTHEW: Very often, these are the people who only come to church once a year at Christmas, or not at all. Everything about the book was designed to appeal to these people. Give them a book with a holy picture on the cover and they simply won’t read it. Give them a book with “Trinity,” “Mary,” or “pope” in the title and they just won’t read it. So if you look at the cover of Resisting Happiness, it is light-hearted, playful, and non-threatening to these people. The text itself starts off with a very real human challenge, one that we all face, then leads to a solution that gently introduces God and his Church as the solution to that problem.
BRANDON: How does today’s culture distract us from happiness?
MATTHEW: In a thousand ways. We live in a culture of distraction. People today are afraid of missing out on stuff, so they find themselves rushing from one thing to another thing. In the process, they miss out on the stuff that God created just for them. We don’t need a lot of things or experiences; we only need the things, opportunities, and experiences that God has chosen for us. Less is more.
BRANDON: Why do people sabotage their own happiness?
MATTHEW: Sometimes because we are fragile and weak. Sometimes because we don’t really know what we want. Sometimes because we are afraid to totally surrender ourselves to God and his plans for our lives. And of course, there is that unspoken truth—we love some of our sins and we don’t want to give them up.
BRANDON: You often say big questions are answered with simple solutions. Can we find happiness with simple solutions?
MATTHEW: Yes. Absolutely. Both naturally and supernaturally. Daily exercise, regular sleep, and good and healthy food, all make you happier in a very natural way. On the other hand, the discipline of daily prayer exponentially increases our happiness on the spiritual plane. Wherever you find genius you find simplicity. Complexity is the way of the mediocre.
BRANDON: How can conquering resistance bring us closer to becoming the-best-version-of-ourselves?
MATTHEW: You cannot accomplish anything worthwhile without breaking through resistance. Naming it and understanding how it works helps you to do battle with it. And it is a battle. In order to become a-better-version-of-myself today, I must first slay resistance, then make choices that help me to become a better person than I was yesterday. You cannot become the-best- version-of-yourself, grow in virtue, or live a holy life without slaying resistance each day, and sometimes many times a day.
BRANDON: Rediscover Jesus was crafted in a way that is digestible to the reader, with action steps for everyday life. Is Resisting Happiness similar?
MATTHEW: Yes, but I resisted the temptation to use Rediscover Jesus as a template. This book ended up being thirty-seven short chapters, and I was OK with that. There was a temptation to stretch it out to forty chapters, but I didn’t. I think the quotes that are blown up in each chapter help with usability, and the action step and key point sections at the end of each chapter reinforce the message of the chapter and provide practical ways to implement what has just been read.
Writing a book that people will read and enjoy is one thing; writing a book that resonates with people is another thing. But writing a book that changes people’s lives is in a completely different realm. That is where I am always shooting for when I sit down to write a book. It is no small feat.
BRANDON: What do you hope people will take away from Resisting Happiness?
MATTHEW: I believe that simply naming resistance and learning to recognize it in our day is life- changing. I mean that with all sincerity. There is a lot more to the book, but as long as every reader takes away the ability to name and recognize resistance, I will feel that I have accomplished something incredible.