eudaemonism n. a system of ethics that bases moral value on the likelihood of actions producing happiness.
I have always fought a losing battle with the concept of “happiness.” I’d like to think that someday I will find the true, innate meaning of the word, but I doubt it. I read a fair amount and know that few people really find the core, “holy grail-like” meaning of happiness. That is why this word truly intrigued me. To have a system of ethics that bases moral value on the likelihood that it will produce this enigma we call “happiness” is absurd – like the infinity symbol…some never-ending loop. Happiness doesn’t seem to have just one definition. It means so many different things to so many people. To a starving child in the Sahara, happiness is endless clean, cool water and food as compared to someone diagnosed with a terminal illness where happiness might be a night without pain or 10 extra days of their life to be lived with their family. Donald Trump deems happiness a much different thing than I do…or does he? It would seem that as life gets increasingly happy, the bar rises – like an addiction, a drug that makes us believe that we deserve much more than we actually do – but is that the case? Is happiness much more simple than one would think? Maybe Donald Trump find his true happiness in a box of Malomars while I dream of a yacht sailing on the mediterranean.
And then there is that lucky place in life where happiness becomes monotony. Where we reach a certain level of what we call “happiness” and expect that it will exponentially grow from that point. Somehow we begin to think that the world owes us the next level because we have earned a certain amount of points or reached a certain threshold, like a game. That is where things most often fall apart. This is the juncture of where happiness meets its counterpart – not sadness – but gratitude. Every truly happy person in life at some point must come to terms with gratitude. At the height of our life’s bell curve where we have reached the highest arch of happiness and when the line gradually descends, gratitude begins – where some turning point make us turn away from the easy happiness we have and make us grateful for ever having experienced it at all. This is the point where people find their greatness, their groove, their reason to live. I fear that there are few of us who get to this point. I believe the majority of people either find stasis and accept their level of happiness or – worse – constantly strive to a higher, unattainable level – possibly leading to greed and arrogance.
To follow the curve downward is much harder. Seemingly it leads to things like gratitude, humility and humbleness. I believe only the great can follow this path – Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa. It’s a completely selfless place – perhaps a power greater than ourselves – where we surrender things over and are happy just to experience life.
Or maybe, happiness is inconceivably simple…like a surprise party or unexpected treat. No bell curves or expectations…just a feeling of joy that seems so rare in life because it is meant to be truly enjoyed and not dismissed like every other minute we live – like that little kid feeling you got running down the stairs to see what was under the tree at Christmas. It didn’t last long…probably only as long as it took to rip that first piece of paper off the first package…just a few seconds. That fleeting, giddy sense of exuberance that makes your heart race and your face beam without trying…like the day your child was born…or the day you fell in love. That intangible feeling of being fully and totally appreciative of life and what is happening in the present – and not thinking about the future or past.
For me, true happiness is found in that short, fleeting moment and I am learning to accept that in the totality of my life, I may chase it relentlessly to only experience it a handful of times and constantly strive to be grateful for those hard earned moments.