Sometimes I wonder if happiness is the highest virtue, or if there is not something higher. Often times we live our lives as though the pursuit of happiness was the highest pursuit that we can attain, but what if it is not? I have to ask whether or not the pursuit of happiness is a noble goal or whether it is a tyrant upon the soul. Not that there is not value or even goodness to be found in happiness, to be happy is a very good thing, what I ask, however, is whether the pursuit of it is worth the cost to our souls. I think that contentment is a higher state of well-being than happiness, to be content is different I think, than being happy. Contentment accepts circumstance much more readily than does happiness. Happiness is more akin to a vapor, it comes and goes with the wind, but is largely to do with circumstances outside of oneself, where contentment is much more about the circumstances inside. The key to contentment is found primarily in gratitude, and in humility.
There is, I think, a form of tyranny in the pursuit of happiness, something that says that it is wrong to not be happy, to feel sadness, or even sorrow. It also tells us that ought to always pull ourselves up again, even though sometimes we’ve been beaten down so badly, we do not even remember how to look up. I believe the pursuit of happiness to be a tragic one, a cruel pursuit really. It’s not that I wish to feel sad, or sorrowful, but I do want to feel emotion.
Emotion above almost all other things open our hearts to empathy, the mind is too cold and rational to bother with anything outside of itself, it is efficient in the sense of cutting itself off from all that it deems to be not important to the task at hand, but it is cold in terms of our relating to other people. It was once believed that a mind detached from emotion would be a cool mind and one more in tune with truth, justice, and so forth, but it is a cold mind, and the coldness of the mind always turns the heart cold with it. The pursuit of happiness, like the mind, tells us to disregard what is deemed to be undesirable emotions, rather than embracing them as part of the human experience, part of what it is that makes us human beings to begin with.
Human beings are designed to be empathetic creatures, perhaps it is why we have emotion in the first place. I see the result of cold minds and the pursuit of happiness. Together they create monsters. People with cold hearts pursuing happiness often times are those who are interested in ‘getting their own way’ and little else. Those who are out to get their slice of the pie, if you will, and their neighbors too if they can get away with it. We ask what would compel someone to take something from somebody else, for example, in a robbery. I think it is the pursuit of happiness in the hands of a cold heart that more often than not is to blame. It’s hard to say exactly why this is, and what it all means, but it remains doubtless a reality of the human heart. Yet, it is also true that people are more complex than a single aspect, and while a dominate characteristic of these folks is to seek to look out for the most important person in their view, themselves, there is usually some aspect to them that is far more complex. It is difficult to find a human so totally given over to evil that there is not something good to be found in them.
What I’m trying to say is that while happiness is important, I think we err to make it the chief goal of our lives, and in many ways, I think it deprives us of the fullness of our experience to do so. There is value in both the light and the darkness, the day and the night, the joy and the sorrow.
I am a human being, and as such, I experience things, some of those experiences are good, and others are not, and while we sometimes can choose to improve our experiences, often times, we cannot. Circumstances can lie outside of our ability to control them, and we cannot become so unfeeling as to remain entirely emotionally detached from them even if we wish to be. And when we do succeed in doing so, what we find is not a state of peace, but something more akin to a state of torment.
Another thing I think that we err to do is to be so independent that we no longer concern ourselves with our fellow human beings. We are fundamentally, if you will, community centered creatures. Or tribal, if that word suits you better, the point is, we do need each other. in my own country, however, we value our independence so much that we pretty much cut ourselves off from everyone around us, and even in the closest of relationships, we have a notion of our own personal space, or something to that effect. I understand, sometimes it is necessary to be alone, and solitude can be, and is, extremely valuable. No, what I question is whether it is wise to have an entire civilization given over to it on a permanent basis. We need each other. I think the greatest danger to American civilization is fragmentation, when it comes to a point of taking our independent spirit too far. Granted, some wonderful things have taken place at the hands of Americans, I also acknowledge that some terrible things have as well. There is a long, sad, trail of American atrocities, stretching from its beginnings all the way until today. There is not much we can do about our past, it is done, but we can take care about our future. We can learn from our own evils, and in so doing, turn aside from committing them further. It is not that I do not love my own country, I do, but I do not wish to let patriotism blind me from its faults. It may seem the better thing in the moment, but in the end, it is a much greater disservice to it. I am not so blind to the whole of human history as to not believe that we are not as capable as every other civilization of not only rising to a hight so high as to soar upon eagle’s wings, but falling so far into the abyss as to never rise again. We have a story, as people, but also as a community, and as a civilization. Not all such stories have to end badly, but many do. What will ours be? I think much of our independence stems from our pursuit of personal happiness. We believe, wrongly, I think, that we are happiest when we have a universe of our own to command. I don’t think we find happiness there, I think we find a taste of Hell.
We have much to decide, but one of the things we do have the power to do, in the moment, is to reach out, to love our neighbor. To forget the ‘American Dream’ that is robbing us of our ‘Human Reality’.