Monday, August 11, 2008

The Pursuit of Happiness: Part I

As I was enduring a particularly horrible week, these words reminded me that I'm no different from anyone else, that my 'suffering' is not unique. I take some comfort in the thought that I am not the only one whose pursuit of happiness is rocky, confusing and painful... "As Aristotle discovered long ago, everyone loves, seeks, pursues and desires everything that they love, seek, pursue and desire for one and the same reason: because they hope it will make them happy. Happiness is the end everyone does in fact seek all the time. "This is evident in any example. No one takes bitter medicine, or undergoes a painful operation, unless they think it will heal them, and they will be happier healed than sick. "No one works hard to make profit, or a boat, or achieve victory, unless they think it will make them happy. Even working for others' happiness is what makes the altruist happy. Even the suicidal person is motivated by the desire to escape unhappiness. Happy people do not commit suicide. "Not only do we seek all that we seek for the sake of happiness; we also never seek happiness for the sake of another end. We play ball because is makes us happy, but we do not seek happiness in order to play ball. People often say, "What good is money, It can't buy you happiness." But no one says, "What good is happiness? It can't buy you money." "So, our greatest good is happiness. However, that does not settle much, for a second question arises: what constitutes happiness?."-- Peter Kreeft, Finding Black and White in a World of Grays.


Anonymous said...

My dear girl, the answer is in your key words : "pursuit", indicating something never held, and “happiness”, which in my opinion are brief periods of emotional high. Consider this:

(1) The movie, The Pursuit of happyness, starring Will Smith. In the end, the movie addresses the issue that happiness may be something we can only pursue, not possess. Somewhat along that line, I think that happiness is a transient state of being, because one minute we could be the happiest people in the world (because we received a surprise gift, got the job we applied for, conquered a habit, or won a trip to an exotic island), but the next minute we are not (because the surprise gift is horrible or we didn’t get the job, are still controlled by a habit, or didn’t win a trip to anywhere). In other words, happiness is dependent on favorable conditions; it does not reveal its head when things become ugly. It is (or can be) the “high” of life that motivates us to move forward, to chase after life. At one moment, we have it and it delights our mind and excites our soul, then it slips out from our grasp. Then we chase after it until we capture it again. Therefore, in life, we play “capture and lose” with happiness—and this is not a bad thing, since it can motivate us to dream, to set goals, to imagine a better tomorrow, and to appreciate the happy events.

(2) The word of God, specifically the short verse that says, “Be joyful always” (1 Thess. 5:16). When I read this verse, I was troubled, because I knew that in the course of any one day, I wouldn’t say I was ALWAYS with joy. As if to make sure I understood that this was God’s expectation for me, he also says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). Then elsewhere he also says, “Rejoice in [your] suffering” (Rom. 5:3), and this verse finally clarified things for me. It allowed me to see that when God referred to joy, I (like most people do) had equated it with mere happiness, and as I had already intuitively figured out, happiness does not stick around during suffering. In my deduction, happiness and joy, although related, have one fundamental difference between them: happiness is situation-dependent, while joy is not. Another way of saying it is that joy has the ability to capture happiness even as it tries to run away during difficult or unfavorable times—joy is happiness permanently captured. A joyful life is life that has cured happiness of its fickleness and aversion to undesirable times or events. With joy in one’s heart, one can get happiness to commit, to say, “For you only, I will stay, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

With joy, a man who has just lost his entire family, his home--everything--can still wake up one morning and say, “Wow, I have not seen a more beautiful sunrise.” Armed with joy, a survivor of -------- (fill in the blank) can still feel that “God is good” or that “People are good.”

So what does this mean? Well…those who are joyful are happy (overall). But those who are happy are not necessarily joyful…only time and life will tell.

What is the secret of being joyful? The secret that I know of and that has been working for me is making every effort to trust God, to trust his words that “In all things [He] works for the good of those who love him.”

I hope your life is seasoned with joy!!

Merry Widow said...

My dear anonymous friend... Stay tuned for succeeding posts on my "pursuit". I'll quote the author's definitions of true vs. false happiness, which is similar to your differentiation of joy vs. happiness.