Sunday, January 18, 2009

New Project

I found a new blog today. New for me, that is. It's called The Happiness Project and is written by Gretchen Rubin. I recommend it. Today's entry is particularly good - it's a quote from Simone Weil. I've had an abiding interest in the topic of happiness. It seems such an elusive thing. The Oxford English Dictionary has 4 definitions.
The main one: The quality or condition of being happy.
1. Good fortune or luck in life or in a particular affair, success, prosperity.
2. The state of pleasurable content of mind, which results from attainment of what is considered good.
3.Successful or felicitous aptitude, fitness, suitability or appropriateness, felicity.

Their definitions of happy are:
1. Coming or happening by chance, fortuitous chance.
2.Having good "hap" or fortune, lucky, fortunate, favored by lot, position or other external circumstance.
3. Characterized by or involving good fortune, fortunate, lucky, prosperous.
4.Having a feeling of great pleasure or content of mind, arising from satisfaction with one's circumstances or condition. Glad, pleased.
5.Successful in performing what circumstances require, apt dexterous.
6. Slightly drunk.

It's also a verb, to make someone else feel good-to happy.

I think that's quite interesting. Many people would put #4 as the primary definition, with outside circumstances being important. Buddhists would say that's the wrong way to look at it. They view happiness as something that comes from within, that you create it by giving up attachment and aversion, by coming to see that the self is not real, that one is part of the whole and that working for the good of others before yourself is the way. And Aristotle would like #5 best. He thought one could not call oneself happy until reaching the end of life and seeing that it was well and virtuously lived.

I reject the simplistic view. I think happiness arrives by many roads. Some internal, some external. It's not that I think that money can buy happiness. But money is important, it is. I don't need mountains of it, 4 houses, 3 cars and a yacht. But money is necessary to maintain oneself. To eat, to wear clothes, to have a roof over ones head. I have always rejected the notion (popular in many religions) that this earthly existence is not important. To me that's just silly. If it's not important why have it at all? Is God the first producer of reality TV? I don't believe it. If the physical world is just a way station why are orchids so beautiful, why does fresh bread smell so wonderful, why can music transport us? Nor can it be that it is only a test, a job to complete. I also reject the reductionist view that we are nothing more than a bunch of cells determined to reproduce and that all our feelings and dreams and struggles with faith and happiness are nothing more than evolutionary by-products.

Recently I had a short conversation with a practicing Catholic. I didn't know she was until part way through the conversation. I admit, I was surprised. She is a museum educator, sophisticated, liberal in her convictions. Her husband is a well known physics professor and though he is not as involved as she, he does not see a contradiction in his study and his faith. I was forced to look at my own prejudices, my own ideas about what a Catholic or Christian is like. She told me that she had grown up Catholic, had tried other Christian churches and found them wanting. She missed the liturgy, she said and though she did not accept everything it was the best place. She asked me what I believed. I told her I believe the universe is a living thing, a giant organism that we are all part of, like cells in the body. There is no real thought here, no ultimate purpose but there is connection, cause and effect. The butterfly's wings may indeed cause a storm. Can we ever really know? I also agree with Shakespeare that there is more to the universe than is dreamt of in our philosophy. I avoid certainty. I think it's dangerous. I prefer the person who has doubts, questions, an open mind. Look out for those who are certain, they are full cups, unwilling to bend or admit the possibility that there is more than one way to see things, that many roads may lead to the same place.

I've digressed a little, just a little, from the topic of happiness. As you probably surmised from the title of this post I am beginning my own happiness project. I'll keep you posted on how its going.


LMP said...

If you haven't already read it, The Art of Happiness by the Dali Lama is a wonderful book. Well, I mean, it's wonderful regardless but I realize you might already know that.

The Plaid Sheep said...

@LMP: I have perused it in the bookstore and it is on my project list. Thank goodness for the library.