On desiring happiness

This is, in part, a reply to this post made over on the Bad Catholic blog.

While I agree with the conclusion, that God exists and that our life in this world is not the sum of all our life will ever be, I must admit that I do not quite understand the argument. As atheists have asked in response to C. S. Lewis’s thoughts, how does a yearning for something imply the existence of something else? The statement that “I yearn for the eternal” implies no more to me than what it states. To make the argument valid, you’d first have to show how yearning for something implies anything else. And saying “well, people yearn for food, and food does exist” does not help. That’s just an example that fits the model. Hunger doesn’t itself imply the existence of food just because food actually does exist. (You could argue the matter on biological and evolutionary terms, but if you intend to then speak in terms of the spiritual, I’m not sure what the point would be.)

What, then, are we to make of the desire to be happy?

Isn’t that missing the point? Why do we have to make anything of it?

What are we to make of the existence of dirt?

The real question is: how do we find happiness?

When you’re hungry, you don’t sit there thinking: “Gee wiz, I’m sure hungry. Hey, wait! That means there must be food! Well, that’s comforting to know.”

No. Ya get up, ya find food, and ya eat it!

While eating, you don’t say: “Hey, wait. After eating this and getting full, I’m just going to be hungry again later. What’s the point of this? I guess I’ll just stop eating and never eat again.”

No. You eat until you’re not hungry anymore (hopefully not until you feel like barfing), and then you eat again later. Your stomach isn’t going to have an existential crises just because the cycles of digestion are never ending until you die.

(The atheist, on the other hand, says: “Gee wiz, I’m sure hungry. But that doesn’t imply there’s food. Or that the hunger is even real. In fact, I’m not even hungry anymore. Guess I’ll just sit here, the noble accepter of truth that I am.”)

I would also claim that we don’t want eternal happiness. We want present happiness. It’s not about what we’ll feel tomorrow versus today, as if our happiness is the sum of dots mapped out on some timetable. The now is all that matters to happiness. Reminding ourselves of yesterday’s sadness does not destroy a wonderful present, nor does reminding ourselves of yesterday’s fortune overturn a present despair. The experience of anything is always in the now. This is what wanting eternal happiness means; it means wanting happiness now, which exists eternally. (It is always now.)

So the question becomes: How can I be happy now?

“Well,” a faithful servant of the Lord might say, “you can’t be completely happy now. You will have to wait until you die and go to Heaven!”

OK. Thanks. Way to not answer the question. Let me rephrase: How can I be as happy as I possibly can right now?

“Um,” says the determinist, “you already are!”

Oh, you determinist, always making jokes!

“Oh, I just had to!” the determinist replies.

But seriously, what’s the answer?

I hope you will forgive me, but I will save an attempted answer for a later blog post, for it is late, and it would very much please me to go to bed now.


I’ve been thinking about writing this for a while… my thoughts are admittedly unorganized…

I’ve noticed that most humans, including myself, tend to never really live in the present; we’re always thinking about some event coming up or what we need to do tomorrow. We’re filled with plans. Everything we do is for some goal we’re trying to achieve. I think even at the millisecond level, our brains are focused on what to expect sensing milliseconds in the future. It’s extremely hard, perhaps impossible, to truly live in the present.

So my question is… is that good or bad?

Sometimes it seems good. If you had no plans, you’d just by lying there like a dog, staring at the world. Or maybe a couch potato. One might say it’s morally wrong to have no goals.

But then… what’s the point of goals? Or what’s the ultimate goal of goals? Sometimes it seems like some people don’t really know.

I think there are only two things that people want for their own sake: pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Everything else done is for the sake of one of those.

Or at least should be. But I think some people instead seek the idea of pleasure. They seek something they think will give them pleasure. But then they spend so much time on this idea that some certain thing will bring them pleasure that they make themselves suffer for it. It’s like this video

Some examples might be a wedding or a party or a vacation that people stress about and plan every detail of to the point of making themselves miserable because everything has to be perfect for it. What I think is especially dangerous is when people start daydreaming what the wedding or party of vacation will be like. They imagine scenes in their heads: “I’ll be smiling over there, and these people will be laughing over here, and we’ll all be happy” or “he’ll be driving and listening to good music and I’ll be half asleep reading my book, and we’ll be happy” … stop it! You have no idea what the future is going to be like! You really can’t plan happiness like that, and you’re most likely just setting yourself up for disappointment. (Not that such events can’t be fun; I just think it’s stupid when people obsess over their planned future happiness so much that they make themselves suffer in the present.)

Weddings and parties and vacations, though, are all things that could be planned and accomplished within a year. I think the process becomes even more dangerous and stupid when people start daydreaming huge life goals to the point where they’re subconsciously expecting them to come true. I will be rich. I will be famous. It seems to be obvious to way too many people.

Or there’s the parent or teacher having expectations for their children or students. They want them to be “successful” but they don’t really describe what exactly that means. Just as much $$$$ and power as possible? What should be the child’s ultimate goal? I guess what comes to my mind is to have a job you’re happy with and to make enough $$$$ to support yourself (and family if you choose to have one (and it is a choice… I hate when people who hardly have enough money to support themselves start raising a family and then kind of romanticize it as if they had no control over when babies would come along… “oh, we’re struggling with our five children, working so many jobs to make ends meet!” … that was a choice)).

But some parents I’ve met (and thankfully I don’t have these kinds of parents) seem to define success as something that can never really be achieved. You must just become as rich as possible, as successful as possible. You must get your foot in the door of some company and keep rising through the ranks until you own the company, and then own all the competition, and then eventually own the world I guess. Or you must become famous, and then more famous, and then more famous. And some parents believe their children are amazing geniuses and they firmly believe, or expect their children to be successful. Unfortunately, every day there are way too many children born for each one to become rich or famous. Only so many people can be rich and famous at a time. These parents’ definition of success depends on their comparing their children to other people, which has always been a stupid way to define success. (Part of me thinks some parents only want their children to succeed so they can brag about them to other parents. “My little Bobby is doing so well, he’s the vice-president of Boring Old Company X, and making a lot of money!” “Oh really? My little Billy still works at the grocery store, but he’s happy gosh darn it!”) And if their children don’t “succeed” then that means they are normal mediocrities…

It’s like your job and wealth determine whether or not you are mediocre. Rich = good, successful, better. Not rich = bad, normal, mediocre. That’s stupid. There are plenty of rich idiots and many brilliant non-rich folk. Shouldn’t the end goal be just to be happy?  (But some people say: “Being a poor struggling artist is not romantic!  It’s stupid!”  It’s not stupid to be poor, it’s stupid to be miserable.)

And then what if you are happy? What if you’re supporting yourself and you’re happy? Does that mean no more goals? You’re done? You’ve reached your life’s ambition? Is that bad? Is that morally wrong? Shouldn’t you always be dreaming some impossible dream?

This video comes to mind… You can have whatever goals you want! You don’t have to constantly want more. You don’t have to always be improving yourself to something you can’t even imagine. “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m getting there!” How do you know?

Just make enough money to support yourself and try to find a job you’re happy with. Whether or not you want to give yourself any goals after that is up to you. You don’t have to be rich or famous or anything. So there.

(Disclosure: I do not yet make enough money to support myself yet, so I guess I’m a failure. But at least I don’t have a job I hate!)