By Don Pietro Leone
St. Philip Neri
“Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life. Therefore the servant of God, ought always to be in good spirits"
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, cheerfulness is a particular virtue which is a part of justice. The virtue of justice is defined as the virtue of giving the other his due, whether that other is God or man. An example of justice in the strict sense is paying back a debt. Now cheerfulness involves giving another something which is not due to him strictly, but in equity, in fairness: namely by behaving pleasantly to those around one. Cheerfulness, like truthfulness, is completely natural, because man naturally lives in society, and without cheerfulness and truthfulness society would not last. St. Thomas quotes Aristotle in this regard: ‘No-one could abide a single day with the sad or with the joyless’.
Why cheerfulness is necessary to society is because it maintains harmony between the different members of society, both in actions and in words. Cheerfulness, apart from being a part of justice, is a form of friendliness. We can distinguish between two forms of friendliness: a particular form which springs from a particular affection for a friend; and a general form which springs from a general affection for all people. Cheerfulness is this latter form of friendliness: it is directed towards every-one. It is directed towards every-one, though not always in the same way: not with the same intimacy with a stranger as with a friend, for example, but in an appropriate way: in a way that suits the circumstances. Interestingly the book of Ecclesiasticus (4.7) particularly mentions the poor as the object of our cheerfulness or friendliness, perhaps because it can be more difficult to be friendly to the poor: ‘Make thyself affable to the congregation of the poor’.