Thursday, February 07, 2013

Love and Happiness

I don't want my daughter to be happy. Don't get me wrong, I'm not rooting for her unhappiness either, I'm merely trying to communicate my desire that happiness not be the central motivation of her life.

So often today it seems we, as a society, operate on a scale of hyper-individualized self-satisfaction. It stems from this notion that the opposite of misery is happiness. I suspect those two things are far more alike than they are different - at least in contexts with which I'm most familiar.

I think about the friend who says, "I'm quitting my job to go to art school." Now I have no problem with that, per say; I applaud non-economic decisions in general and I think we could use far more artists in the world. However, when you go deeper and ask why - often the response is: "I'm just not happy."

I don't think it's an issue of happiness. How many people do we see in enviable positions - with money, power, fame, or success - who claim to lack happiness? I imagine it's more a lack of purpose.

We humans have this insatiable desire for fulfillment. We recognize that individually we lack something and we're desperate to figure out what it is and to fill the lack. Despite the passe nature of seeking happiness in money, possessions, power, or fame, we still do it. We've also added some socially acceptable pursuits as well - domestic tranquility or philanthropy (Peter Rollins would add religious tranquility, and I think he's right).

None of these are, on their own, anything other than the age-old attempt to fill our inherent emptiness with something other than another person. I think this comes from a bastardized understanding of love.

We've whittled love down to a solitary act - something we do for or to someone or something else, usually in support of another's journey towards happiness. We do it to make ourselves feel good and we do it to make someone else feel good, but there is no relationship, no transaction taking place.

Love is something that irrevocably ties us to another. This is the antithesis of happy. For if we love in this way and ever become unhappy, we're stuck. It's one thing to quit a job because of unhappiness - likely your employer has no more loyalty to you than you do to them, but we hesitate a bit (although seemingly less and less everyday) when someone quits a marriage for the same reason.

Why? Because there's some implied commitment there (or at least there's supposed to be). When we tie ourselves to others we forfeit the right to make our personal happiness the primary motivation of our life.

Our society has responded by avoiding commitment like the plague. We've removed the stigma around breaking agreements and incentivized not forming them in the first place. From independent contractors at work to pre-nups in marriage (if you get married at all) to individual state, cities, and sheriffs deciding which laws are worth enforcing - we've embodied the idea that "you can't make me do anything I don't want to do."

And that's fine. I believe in every person's right to make those decisions. I just don't think it's healthy - and I know it's no path to happiness, no path to finding purpose and contentment.

The irony, if you will, the paradox of human life is that our innate desire for self-fulfillment cannot be filled by on our own. It can't be done by seeking happiness. It can only be accomplished by giving up that individual desire to be fulfilled. It happens by loving others irrevocably, by giving someone else the right to control what we do. It means loving in such a way that we tie ourselves to others.

I don't want my daughter to be unhappy - that's not the idea - I want her to love and be loved. I want her to have purpose, to be apart of God's redemptive purpose in the world. I'm fairly certain this doesn't always make one happy, but there' more to life than simply enjoying it.


Anonymous said...

Happiness is the now-and-forever Mystery that IS the Real Heart and the Only Real God of every one.

Always remember that your inherent heart-disposition wants and needs Infinite, Absolute, True, Eternal Happiness.

The fundamental human urge and need is not gross in nature.
The fundamental human urge and need is not food, sex, power, things, or even physical survival.
The fundamental human urge and need is happiness - but not in the mere satisfaction/fulfilment of self sense.
The fundamental human urge and need is ECSTASY - or the free exercise of the ability to step outside, or to effectively exceed and transcend, the bondage to egoic point-of-view and, altogether, mortal physical "self"-identity.

Truly, one of the words that most aptly indicates what every one is seeking is Happiness. You (at heart, and fully) want Happiness, although in some sense you would rather not even confess that Happiness is what you truly want - because you feel and have been taught that the REAL attainment of Happiness is not even possible. Nevertheless, truly and always, this is what you want: Unalloyed, Unchanging, Absolute HAPPINESS. The problem, simply stated, is that you are not any good at getting IT!. And you do not know WHAT True Happiness Really IS. Therefore, you are are in the same situation that the rest of ordinary humanity (in their dreadful sanity) has been in all along.

Most people DO live a life of quiet desperation - even while believing in Jesus and the usual conventional God ideas.

Ryan said...

/|\ See, this is exactly what I'm
| talking about, although I do
| agree with the last sentence.