Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Happiness - A Strange Melancholy In the Midst of Our Abundance

Door, Green Lake, Wisconsin

Writer George McDonald once wrote: "The one principle of hell is: 'I am my own.'" Thomas Merton believed the most boring thing in life is self-obsession, and that the narcissistic life was living on the doorstep of hell.

Narcissism as the quest for self-happiness is the path to the empty self (J.P. Moreland), the highway to the false self (Merton). J.P. writes: 

"Most of what takes up the airwaves is the absence of life—a constant reshuffling of relationships, a preoccupation with wiping out the opposition as violently as possible, the pursuit and spending of the almighty dollar in a system that Vaclav Havel calls “totalitarian consumerism.” We see example after example of empty, self-centered existence." (Moreland, J. P., The Lost Virtue of Happiness: Discovering the Disciplines of the Good Life, Kindle Locations 125-126)

We Americans are both obsessed with happiness and confused about it. We have more material possessions than anyone who has ever lived. If stuff made us happy, then no one has ever been happier and more satisfied than us. But we are not. Our things are consuming our souls. There is, as Alexis de Tocqueville observed about America, “a strange melancholy in the midst of abundance.” (In Ib., Kindle Locations 143-144)

Where is the road to freedom? C. S. Lewis wrote, “You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.” Or as Jesus said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). In other words, live for something other than your own happiness.

Happiness is a wonderful byproduct of a life well-lived, but it makes a horrible goal to quest after. The life well-lived exists for something other than its own fulfillment. That "something other" must be non-trivial and majestic. Such as God. 

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My first book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.