Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Finding "Happiness"

It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon. After doing some chores I now find myself with nothing specific I need to do, a rare situation in my life. I was reading various elements of my blog page, put together yesterday in fear and trembling, and could not help but notice my own comment, that I am "a seeker."

It is true that I am always searching, and as noted afflicted with "divine discontent." Or is it divine? Perhaps it is just discontent. It does raise the issue of how one finds what one is seeking. Aristotle suggested that there is a kind of "sustainable" or enduring happiness which he called "eudemonia." This is a kind of happiness, perhaps I would call it "joy" that does not come and go. It is not something that can be taken from us. We may lose our family, our job, our house, our car, our possessions, even our way of life, but we can't lose fulfillment.

I think however that most of us, myself included, seek not this kind of deep fulfillment, but more shallow and transient forms of happiness. We seek to find satisfaction through such things as power, food, possessions, and sexuality. We stuff ourself, we consume. The result? We are full, but not satisfied. And then it goes one step further, eventually we just feel sick. Our desire turns into aversion. This is why Lou Marinoff makes the profound statement that "people who pursue happiness end up catching unhappiness."

Biblically the suggestion is that fulfillment and happiness lie within us, not outside. It flows from finding the true self that is inside us, the authentic self. It comes from allowing the diving Spirit (big S not little s) inside us that connects us with God, ourselves and others. It comes from letting that Spirit guide and empower.

I am suggesting that fulfillment is found in neither accumulation, which drives us to be greedy and short sighted, nor renunciation, which makes us angry and dour, but in grasping our authentic self, a self that we find when we love God, and make ourselves open to God's Spirit in us, learn to respect and care for ourselves, and then reach out and respect and care for others.

Now to practical things. Our state is going to choose whether to pay a little more in taxes so kids can be educated and people with mental illness helped. Our nation is looking at sharing resources so every has health care. How will our response to these kind of issues change if we are seeking fulfillment rather that shallow, objective driven happiness? If we are more concerned with people than things?

There are many things to ponder, as we dance with the Spirit.


  1. You talked about Keen in your first post. Probably his most famous quote is "Love isn't finding a perfect person, it's seeing an imperfect person perfectly."

    Maybe if we'd get over our frightened notions of judging who is properly "deserving" of help, we'd be quicker to give it through taxes to those who need it. Even if their imperfections are more noticeable than ours.

  2. Yes, a great quote from Keen, who is very wise. I agree that our tendency to "judge" is behind much of our non-generosity. I think it interesting that Jesus constantly talks about "the least of these" as those who should be the center of focus and action. The least are literally that, the most vulnerable, most in need of help.