In my college days, I spent a fair amount of time studying Aristotelian ethics. His system can also be termed ‘eudaimonism’ (cool word, I know), which derives from the Greek word ‘eudaimonia’ – happiness, or literally ‘being-well-in-spirit.’ Basically, he thought that every human being is naturally directed toward happiness. That is the state in which he or she wishes to exist forever.
The catch – there’s always a catch with ethics – is that in order to exist in happiness, human beings have to be good. The goodness Aristotle means isn’t just an inborn state of being valuable and lovable, which depends solely on our humanity. Everybody has that, but not everybody is happy, right? Goodness, then, is a state of moral perfection in which a human being no longer has to struggle to behave always in the best way. Instead, it is the habit of his or her life – the only thing possible.
If that is the state required for total happiness, it’s no wonder we all feel sad sometimes.
|Nature offers free happiness!|
Achieving the ideal of human behavior is very difficult, as we all know. Often we’re impatient; occasionally we slip back into bad habits, even though we’ve worked years to overcome them; frequently we care more about our own comfort than the needs of someone else. After such small or big failures, we feel disappointed with ourselves, and even angry at others for causing the situation which made us slip up. Happiness remains elusive.
And yet, we feel moments of it. For example, the other night I was driving in the evening. The sun was setting in a halo of fuchsia and orange; the air was soft and warm; birds were twittering and flickering through the sky. For a moment, I felt utterly serene and at ease. This was in spite of the fact that I was heading to another night of house-sitting, which meant dealing with a very hyper dog and probably getting as little sleep as on the previous four nights. Something about the peace of the evening, and the security of having a job to go in that calm atmosphere – a destiny and a purpose – soothed every worry and all my tiredness. I felt happy, in short.
Of course, being a writer, then I started to think about the reason for moments of happiness.
The practical reason is pretty obvious, I’d say. We human beings are pretty susceptible to discouragement. We all know, somewhere deep down, that goodness will help us become happy, so we work on improving ourselves. It’s a long and uphill battle, though, so some give up altogether, some get distracted, some take one step forward for every two (or ten) steps back.
The thing that counteracts distraction, discouragement and slow progress, though, is the promise that something better is waiting. A moment of pure happiness, when everything in ourselves is in harmony with everything outside ourselves – what better thing could we have to balance more negative reactions? Such a moment, brief or long as it may be, reminds us that there is hope for us to reach that state more permanently.
It also gives us a hint about how to do so.
|Beethoven: my favorite composer!|
Harmony is the key – or balance, you might say. Of course, as the name of my blog reveals, I think about balance a fair amount. In striving for goodness, we’re striving for equilibrium in our thoughts, our emotions, our relations with others, our jobs, our families, etc. etc. There are so many elements which go into human life that harmonizing them all becomes a symphonic experience. We’re all Beethovens of sorts: deaf people trying to translate the imagined music of perfection into reality.
The lesson to learn, I think, is how beautiful the gifted moments of happiness are. Like a perfect chord, they can inspire us to create an entire work – the artistry of our lives. Sometimes they can also inspire other, more concrete artworks, too. Who hasn’t been uplifted enough by a transcendent instant to turn to drawing, painting, poetry, essay, fiction, music, dance or some other equally beautiful creation? We are raised up and transfigured briefly, so that the flash of glory may unveil for us the path we should follow in our lives.