Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What Leads to Happiness (Part 1 of 2)

Yesterday, I discussed the idea that happiness is the final end or goal of every human life.  This, naturally, leads us to ask more about happiness.  What is happiness?  What leads to happiness?  How can we obtain happiness?

Today and tomorrow, we will discuss the question of "What does happiness consist of?" or "What leads to happiness?".  There are many answers that are traditionally given to this question, and it is best to examine each of these things in turn, as well as the reasons why or why not they are the source of happiness.  Here are the answers up for discussion:

1.      Wealth
2.      Honor
3.      Fame or glory
4.      Power
5.      Pleasure
6.      Bodily goods
7.      Spiritual goods
8.      Any created good

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Wealth seems like it creates happiness, for many reasons.  First, many people treasure wealth as the greatest of all things, which is a sign that money makes happiness.  Second, money allows a person to purchase every good thing.  Third, people desire good things.  Since the desire for money is limitless, money must be the best of all things.

However, it is impossible for human happiness to consist in wealth, and this is obvious when we examine the nature and purpose of wealth.

People seek after wealth and money.  Why?  It is not because wealth and money bring happiness; it is because money can be used to buy things.  Money is just a means to an end; it is not an end in itself.  The person who prizes money does not really prize money itself; he prizes the things which money is able to purchase.

This can clearly be seen, by the fact that people do not value money which is unable to purchase anything.  Therefore, happiness cannot consist in wealth, because wealth is not desirable in and of itself.

To respond to the objections.  First, it is true that many foolish people prize wealth above all things.  This does not mean that money should be prized above all things.  Second, money does not allow a person purchase every good thing.  There are spiritual things that cannot be purchased by money, which is why Proverbs 17:16 says "What good does it do for a fool to have riches, seeing as he cannot use them to purchase wisdom?"  Third, when someone possesses a good thing, they grow to love it more and more, while they start to despise other things.  But with wealth, it is the opposite.  Once a person possesses something, they start to despise it more and more; they eventually get bored of it and move on to something new.  This is because the things wealth purchases are insufficient and imperfect, and so they cannot create lasting happiness.

Honor seems like it creates happiness, for many reasons.  First, virtuous people get rewarded with honor, more than they get rewarded with anything else.  Second, people who are extremely happy have great honor.

However, happiness does not consist in honor, and this is obvious when we look at how honor creates happiness.  You are happy if you get honored by someone very important, but if you are honored by someone you hate or someone who you think is unimportant, this does not make you happy.  Therefore, it seems the happiness in honor comes from who is doing the honoring and what is being done as a sign of honor, not from the honoring itself.  We can see this is true, because a person who is snobbish and looks down on everyone is never happy whenever people honor him.  Therefore, happiness does not consist of honor.

To respond to the objections.  The first argument confuses virtue and honor.  If a person does something, just for the sake of being honored, that person is not virtuous.  He is ambitious.  Therefore, truly virtuous people do not seek after honor for honor's sake.  Second, honor is given to people because they have some kind of excellence.  It is not honor that makes a person excellent.

Fame or Glory is being well recognized and praised, which seems to lead to happiness.  First, Saint Paul talks about the glory of the eternally-happy saints; "The sufferings of this time are as nothing compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).  Second, goodness naturally spreads itself out to other people.  Glory spreads itself among people faster than anything else, so it creates happiness.  Third, fame is unique, in that it creates a sort of immortality.

On the contrary, happiness does not rest in fame or glory, for three reasons.  First, people who seek fame often do not want fame itself; they just want the honors that come with fame.  They seek honor as a source of happiness, not fame, and as explained earlier, honor does not lead to happiness.

Second, we must note that human knowledge often fails.  For this reason, glory is often deceptive, and fame is given to undeserving people.  We often hear the term "the fickleness of fame", which explains why fame does not lead to happiness: it is fickle.  Nothing which is fickle or likely to change often can lead to happiness.  This can easily be seen in the example of famous people who are unhappy, because they are afraid of losing their fame, or because they have already lost their fame.

Third, we can see that fame does not lead to happiness, if we examine how a thing becomes famous.  First, there is a good thing.  Second, other people recognize this thing as good.  Third, fame or glory is given to the good thing.  Fame, you see, comes last in the series of events; therefore, fame does not cause the good thing which leads to happiness.  Instead, fame is a result of it.

To respond to the objections.  First, that language refers to the glory that is from God, not the glory that is with humans.  Second, it is not true that fame always arises from goodness.  A person can be wrongly famous for being generous, when in reality, that person is stingy.  In those cases, there is a disconnect between fame and goodness.  Third, as said earlier, fame is fickle and has no stability.  In fact, false reports can easily ruin fame.  Sometimes fame endures, but this is by accident; happiness endures of itself, and forever.

Power seems to be a source of happiness.  First, the more power you have, the more you are like God, who is eternally happy.  Second, as Aristotle and Plato teach, the ideal government is run by the best citizens.  Power and goodness, therefore, are directly related, so happiness consists in power.  Third, the opposite of power is servitude.  People shun servitude more than anything else.  Because servitude is treated as the greatest evil, the opposite of servitude must be the greatest good.

On the contrary, power is not a source of happiness.  This is because power and happiness are of two entirely different types; power is a principle which tends towards good or evil, whereas happiness is a last end, which tends towards good alone.

Many of the things that were said earlier about wealth, honor and fame could be repeated here.  For example, power does not lead to happiness because, like fame, it is temporary.  Like honor, the happiness that results from power is dependent upon who you have power over; in other words, happiness does not come from having power alone.  Like riches, the desire for power is confused with the fruits of power.  This is like a hungry person who desires a sandwich; the hungry person does not truly desire the sandwich, but rather, the person desires to eat the sandwich.  It is eating that is the real desire, not the sandwich.  In a similar way, many people with a desire for power do not desire power itself, but rather, they desire the things that power allows them to do.

One of the main reasons that power does not and cannot lead to complete happiness is because power is always incomplete.  All power is limited; you can have all the power in the world, but there will still be many things beyond your control.  First, you will be unable to control other people, because the power you exert over other people is external, not internal.  Human beings have free will, and they can always choose to resist or ignore the powers they are subject to.  Second, you will be unable to control yourself and your own body.  Despite great medical advances, it is impossible to assert complete control over your own body; there is no way to prevent yourself from dying, and there is no way to prevent your body from naturally decaying.  The inevitability of death is a power beyond our control, and this is one of the limits that human power cannot pass.

The limits of power can be seen through the example of history, where many governments have tried to exercise complete power and authority over their subjects; with one accord, they all failed.  They are all examples of the bad use of power, and no true happiness can arise from evil means, because happiness is rooted in goodness.

To respond to the objections.  God's power is his goodness; he cannot use his power in any way other than well.  This is not the case with humans, who can use power for evil.  Therefore, because power can be used in an ungodly way, power is not directly related to godliness.  Second, and again, power can be used for good or evil, which invalidates the claim that power is directly related to goodness.  It is a good thing when power is used for goodness, to be sure, but power is a very bad thing when used for evil purposes.  Third, people shun servitude not because power is the supreme good, but because servitude is contrary to our natural use of free will.  To state this in other terms, servitude is a hindrance to the good use of power.

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Well, it seems that all four of the traditional answers to "What leads to happiness?" are wrong.  Perhaps tomorrow, when I discuss the other four answers people give, we will find an answer which is correct.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hm... Love maybe? People seem to be happier when they love someone.

Lily Loves Harry Potter said...

Happiness = Harry Potter.

That is all.

Christi said...

Unless you're Mr. Krabs. Then you just love money itself.