The Journey series
This week’s Mustard Seed looks at the right to pursue happiness. All things we do we do to be happy.
Through both philosophy and psychology four tiers of happiness have been discerned.
1) External happiness comes through our senses from things.
2) Ego comparative happiness comes from a perception that our situation is better than someone else’s.
3) Contributive happiness comes through helping others.
4) Transcendent happiness comes from experiencing truth, beauty, goodness, and God.
At the first level the cause and effect of pleasure is easy to recognize. Much of it is necessary for survival. Eating relieves hunger; clothing and shelter relieve cold and wet. The reward comes soon after the effort. The rewards, however, diminish. One’s tenth bite isn’t as satisfying as the first and their hundredth may verge on painful. Rice three times a day for weeks on end grows tiresome. This type of happiness is also specific to those receiving the stimulus and ends soon after the source is removed.
As we rise through the levels happiness becomes more pervasive, enduring, and deep but more time and effort must be spent in acquisition. We must forego some immediate pleasure, or even endure suffering, to achieve greater anticipated pleasures.
Happiness at each level is good. We must engage in the first two levels to survive in society but to make those pleasures our ends becomes counter-productive. Peace is rarely found there. Dwelling in first level happiness will be a constant strive for a rush that ever ebbs and wanes. Second level happiness as a goal will lead to some depressing losses, some conciliatory ties, and some hard to hold wins. In both levels happiness will be just beyond where we are. Unfortunately, it is estimated that 70% of society is stuck in these two modes. Much of the malaise of society arises because idle time is spent escaping from a quest that can’t be won rather than striving for higher ideals.
As a teacher and during charitable activities I experienced and witnessed the far greater contributive happiness. At this level there are only winners, no losers. I challenge everyone to get involved with charities and service groups. Don’t just give money; give time. I guarantee the joy you receive will surpass the effort you give.
Transcendent happiness is becoming rarer as we become busier. Society demands so much that we have little time and energy left for leisure. Truth, beauty, and goodness are abandoned for the economy. Universities focus much more on commerce than arts. Scientific research focuses on products more than on discovery. People focus more on themselves than on God.
None of my greatest joys came from things or achievements. They all touch on the eternal; my marriage, the births of my sons, and a sense of connection with God during deep prayer and meditation. A few eureka moments during my studies are close contenders; times I was inspired with knowledge as if a switch flipped from darkness to light. There was also a time when I was looking up at the stars somewhere in the mid-Atlantic during a six day crossing. I knew then how small and insignificant I am, we all are, the Earth is in this vast creation.
How do we resolve the enigma of transcendent happiness being superior while lower levels are more urgent? Our society seems more and more to dictate that we forego the transcendent. Perhaps transcendence is reserved for the privileged. I suggest we listen to the scriptures. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.
Next week: ? (I’ll pray)