What do you think the modern ideal of society is? Money, the American Dream, Power? Perhaps something else? What is the pursuit of happiness and, if it is definable at all, what exactly is happiness?
Cicero covers it quite succinctly in De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum which, as you all know, I have just finished reading. Not that he comes to an answer in any real way, but he lays out the possibilities of what the end of all human endeavor could be, what it perhaps should be.
And money, power, respect are not necessarily the points that he would choose. For Cicero, and many others, the highest, ultimate Good is the pursuit of wisdom. But does wisdom make you happy? Is it possible to achieve the highest level of wisdom known to man, or even a stage further and improve the wisdom available, the knowledge which can be shared, and live a life full of everything that one needs?
The questions are as relevant to our modern society now as they were in the centuries before Christ, before any of the other religious philosophers or philosophers in general, even if no one asks them any more. Each and everyone of us is on the look out, searching for that special something which brings fulfillment, happiness, perhaps even more.
Money, power and respect? Perhaps, in a small way but, to my way of thinking, these are all material things which vanish, which wane, which pass as someone better comes along, someone richer, someone with that slightly different touch. You only need to take a glance at the long lists of role-model superstars and their eventual downfall, at the lists of high ranking managers, bankers, politicians. Are they happy, or was their happiness a mere glimpse of what could have been, a bright star on the horizon which flared and faded, disappeared from view never to reappear? The business world is full of such stories, men and women who have been there and then, suddenly, they are a thing of the past. Hollywood is the same. The world keeps on moving and we have to move with it, our expectations change, or idea of happiness changes too. That one thing we always wished to have, no matter what it is, is not quite so desirable once we have it.
Success is not happiness, not by a long way, it fades too. Success which makes money and brings fame? Fine, but respect added to that? Not necessarily. Respect is something which needs to be earned, and kept, and it cannot be bought. Respect for a certain position, governmental or military are examples, is not respect for the person only for the position that they hold. I can respect a person’s position, a person’s decision and not respect them as a person at all. One small failing and everything is dust.
It is the failures of other people that we feed upon. News media is full of such failures, indiscretions, social abnormalities. A person’s success is a mere fifteen minutes of fame, their failures remain forever.
So is happiness an illusion or is it really something which can be attained, can be held on to? Cicero claims that happiness, the ultimate Good, is a freedom from pain. He also disputes that it is a complete freedom from pain – philosophers do such things – because pain can have so many levels. It is not just physical pain, but also mental pain. Desire, longing, dreams can all bring their own form of pain, their own form of despair with them, and dispel our ideal of happiness.
Is true happiness attainable or just an illusion we all push in the hope that we will attain some form of happiness?
For me, inexperienced as I am in the world, happiness has many, many different levels. Rather than trying to gain the ultimate level, happiness in everything, we should concentrate on that which we can achieve. That doesn’t mean we should discard our hopes and dreams, but perhaps not set our sights too high, not be disappointed when one thing, out of many, doesn’t quite work out the way that we had planned, the way we wanted it to.
Also for me, happiness is not just something limited to my personal feelings, to me as a person. It expands with the happiness, the satisfaction, the well-being of those around me, my nearest and dearest and, to a certain extent, those outside of my immediate circle. Helping other people, without endangering myself, to a higher level of happiness, even with the smallest token, brings me considerably more. Seeing the look of happiness in someone elses’ eyes when, without needing to be asked, without any feeling that I am bound to help, that it is a must, I am able to help someone else, that is a form of happiness for me too. Doing the right thing, especially, for those who limit themselves, at this time of year.
Love & Kisses, Viki.