Before I start this blog, I want to be clear, these words are not a final philosophy. These blogs are posts, thought reflections, a way to put my ideas into the world and out of my head, and see what people think. We stay honest, we learn, and we change as humans through conversation. I will remain anonymous, so that the purity of this mission remains.
Now, let’s talk about happiness.
Happiness is an interesting thing. It is a universal feeling, a state of ecstasy we all chase yet in our modern day it has been placed at the pinnacle of human achievement. You hear things like “you do you” and “whatever makes you happy” on a daily basis, and that’s what I want to talk about. Webster's dictionary defines happiness as “a state of well-being and contentment…”. If you’ve ever lived a day after middle school you’ll know that this “state of well-being” is ever fleeting. Yet, in the modern day, this idea of happiness is something that people base their life on. The quality of their actions, their jobs, their marriages, are all based on the answer to the question “Does this make me happy?”. This is where I see a problem. If one views happiness as a state of contentment that is entirely subjective, yet bases their lives and goals on it, our lives fail logically.
We established earlier that happiness is fickle. It is there one moment and then your mortgage comes in and it’s gone. We cannot base our entire life on a feeling that constantly goes away. It creates a never ending chain of dependency with no final origin. You can’t build a building without a foundation, so also you can’t build your life around a feeling that is ever fleeting and entirely subjective. On top of that, even if you ignore the logical failure of this philosophy, you will run into practical issues. This lifestyle causes constant contradictions and fails to provide concrete purpose. This inevitably leads to depression, lack of work ethic, self loathing, anxiety etc. Now I know this all sounds depressing, but do all those results sound familiar? If not, take a look at your son’s or daughter’s Instagram for maybe...2 minutes and you’ll see those words everywhere. It’s a chronic issue that not only ails our youth but a large majority of our society, and you see people everywhere struggling with how to fix it.
“If I change my gender, my lifestyle, my diet, my clothes then I can find happiness.”
“If enough people drool over my bikini pictures, my food pictures, my vacation pictures then I can find happiness.”
“If I can have enough sex, eat enough food, take enough drugs then I can find happiness.”
You get the idea, but how do we fix this?
Well I have to return to Old Faithful, or as Catholics know him, St. Thomas Aquinas. See Aquinas defines happiness a little differently than Webster, “... happiness is that perfect good which entirely satisfies one’s desire; otherwise it would not be the ultimate end…”.
This definition makes a lot more sense. Aquinas doesn’t see happiness as a final goal, but merely a byproduct of good. If we view happiness as a sign, a reference point that we are on the right path, then we begin to lose our dependency on it, our addiction to it. Our life has a true purpose and a straight path. I know what your thinking, oh that just what Thomas Aquinas thinks...so I’ll give you another source, how about Viktor Frankl, world renowned psychiatrist, philosopher and Holocaust survivor, here’s what he says about happiness. “Don’t aim at success...For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”
Now, I'd say if anyone has an idea of true happiness or the lack thereof, it would be a man who survived the concentration camps. This immediately eliminates the “you do you” mentality. Life ceases to be about doing your own thing and not affecting others and focuses on doing the right thing, no matter who it affects.
Now this is the part where most Catholic bloggers would bring God into the picture. You can definitely go there, but I want to take baby steps. Even before identifying God as the ultimate good, by using the proper definition of happiness, we must now ask “what is objective good?” We must now ask, think, question our world and ideals. That is the ultimate point of this blog. In the 21st century, life moves at a thousand miles per hour and it’s so easy to just keep going. Stop for a moment. Require yourself and those around you to think, to ask the hard questions.
“What is happiness?”
“What is objective good?”
“Who is God?”
Your Neighborhood Catholic,