Thursday, 9 January 2014

What happiness is


Although happiness is properly the same thing as the enjoyment of the chief good, and therefore the best experience which may be desired, nevertheless because this state of enjoyment includes the chief good, happiness itself was made to be called the chief good. It is called the “chief of goods,” “the ultimate good,” “the end of the ends,” and “the end par excellence,” because all other things are desired and sought after for its sake, while happiness itself is ultimately desired for its own sake. Let’s first consider two important points.
The first is, that we shall not concern ourselves here with the happiness upheld by Holy Men, particularly when they teach how happy is he who is helped by Divine Providence, devotes himself purely to the worship of God, and who, full of faith, hope, and charity, spends the rest of his days gently and calmly. We will speak only about that which can be known as natural, i.e., acquirable by natural means, which the philosophers did not ever doubt could be obtained on Earth.

The second point is that this natural happiness is such that one cannot conceive of circumstances which are imaginably better, sweeter, or more desirable. In such a condition there is no evil to fear, no lack of good things, nothing one cares to do that is beyond one’s power, and one is completely stable, safe, and secure. But we understand that although this sort of condition is possible in which there are necessary goods in abundance, very little that is evil, and in which one can thereby live as gently, calmly, and securely as the conditions of our country, society, lifestyle, health, age, and other such circumstances allow, it remains that to promise oneself, or to realise this supreme happiness during the course of our life, it is to not recognise, or to have forgotten, that one is a man, i.e. a feeble and weak animal who by the condition of his nature is vulnerable to an infinity of evils, and miseries.

And it is in this sense which we say that the wise man, no matter how tortured by cruel pains, can yet be content in this perfect and supreme happiness For this human happiness is always experienced in the wise as greatly as possible. The wise man does not worsen his misfortunes with impatience and despair; he instead soothes himself by his devotion. He is happier, or to say it better, less unhappy than if he succumbed in the manner of those who could not maintain themselves in such a plight with the same virtue and the same courage, and moreover do not have, as he does, the comfort that wisdom provides, such as a guilt-free life and a conscience beyond reproach, which is always a marvelous

 consolation.

This is why one should not go so far as to say that it is thus indifferent to wise man if he is in sweet repose upon a bed of roses, because he would rather not suffer from things like fire and torments – things which he would wish to be free of. But when they arrive, he considers them as inevitable evils, and he endures them courageously; so that he can say I am not vanquished and I do not let myself become a coward, which would render my condition even more miserable.”

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