A Useful Definition of Happiness


from The Saints' Guide to Happiness
Robert Ellsberg

But what if happiness is not subjective, a question of how we feel, or a matter of chance, something that simply happens? What if it is more like an objective condition, something analogous to bodily health? Aristotle took this view. The word he used for happiness, eudaimonia, is not a matter of feelings but a way of being, a certain fullness of life. Happiness, for Aristotle, has to do with living in accordance with the rational and moral order of the universe. It is more like the flourishing of a healthy plant than like Freud's pleasure principle. Because it is rooted in habits of the soul, it is the fruit of considerable striving. But for the same reason it is not subject to the vagaries of fortune.

The Greek-writing authors of the New Testament did not use Aristotle's word for happiness. The drew on another word, makarios, which refers to the happiness of the gods in Elysium. In the Gospel of Matthew this is the word that Jesus uses to introduce his Sermon on the Mount, "Happy are the poor in spirit. . . . Happy are the meek. . . . Happy are they who mourn. . . ." St. Jerome, who prepared the Latin translation in the fourth century, used beatus, a word the combines the connotations of being happy and blessed. Hence these verses are known as the Beatitudes. Forced to choose, most English translators have opted--probably wisely--for the more familiar "Blessed are. . . " The Beatitudes, after all, are not about "smiley faces" or feeling happy. They are not about feelings at all. They are about sharing in the life and spirit--the happiness--of God. In that spirit a disciple (like Jesus himself) could experience mourning, suffering, and loss while remaining "blessed"--happy, that is, in the most fundamental sense.

Happiness, as spoken of in the gospels and in the Bible is not of the moment. It isn't an instant of good feeling. Rather, happiness is the way of living as God would have us live. Outside of God everything is ephemeral, fleeting. Ecclesiastes would tell us that all is vanity, vanity. "If the Lord does not build a house, then in vain do the builders labor."

Happiness comes from what we do, not how we feel. That elation or good-feeling we sometimes experience is a pale shadow of true happiness that becomes apparent only in the light of eternity. Striving after anything else is in vain--only in obedience to His commandments and His word is happiness to be found.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 7, 2006 9:02 AM.

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