[Rector]

Happiness

 

"I just want to be happy". Anyone could well identify with the sentiment, but was it all worth it? He had just left his wife and children and was into an affair with his secretary. Everything was in tatters. His family destroyed, her family destroyed, his standing in the community lost, his circle of friends broken and his professional standing called into question. All for what? For some glimmer of happiness, came the reply. "I just want to be happy."

It may be unfair to say this, but was he chasing anything more than just sexual fulfillment? Sure, sometimes marriages break down because of some incompatibility, some latent unresolved hurt, but this was just a demand for the right to enjoy life to the full, no matter who got hurt in the process. "It's my life, and I have every right to live it and to enjoy it." Given that sex is the most powerful of human drives, are we to argue that enjoying it becomes the highest good?

We may not easily agree with his behavior, but we can certainly identify with his sentiment. We all want to be happy, yet in the end it is a rather selfish motive for life. We could argue that the selfish downside is softened if we aim for the happiness of the greatest number. Yet, such hedonist values seem so remote from the strength of the feelings within us. The greatest happiness for the greatest number is achieved by daylight saving, but of course at the expense of young families who have to put up with their toddlers for an extra hour in the evening. Is that what we want, the happiness of the majority at the expense of the minority? Is our highest good found in happiness, and if so, what type of happiness?

Manning Clarke, the famous historian, said that the meaning of life is found in the pursuit of wisdom. Yet for what purpose? Surely not for the gaining of wisdom itself, but rather the gaining of wisdom for some end. Is that end happiness? If happiness, happiness at what price, at what cost to others?

So here lies the question, where shall I find happiness? If not in the momentary intensity of illicit love, or the advantage of the majority at the expense of the minority, then where? C.S. Lewis puts it this way. "There once was in man a true happiness of which now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself". Of course, the Bible says it in a far simpler way, "In thy presence is fullness of joy; in thy right hand there are pleasures forever."