I have been thinking on Aristotle tonight and happiness. Happiness and its relation to faith have been on my mind lately, as I try to understand what might bring me and my family a more real form of sustainable happiness. For Aristotle, happiness is found in living well. What constitutes living well is up for grabs really.
In ethics, we say that happiness is the “end” and living well is the “means” to this end. The means can be found in many ways: egoism (living and acting for self interest), utilitarianism (living and acting in the interest of the majority [sorry minority, you get the short end here]), altruism (living for the well being of others), duty ethics (good ol’ Kant and his rules for how to live ethically), and divine ethics (living to appease a god or goddess).
When I consider these modes of ethics, I cannot help but also consider the relationship between faith and ethics and happiness. I am not sure if I understand “faith” entirely on a personal or emotional level. My mom once announced this to me and I categorically denied it, but I suspect she is right-I do not function on faith. I am a pragmatic person and I tend to spend a good deal of time questioning most things from happiness, to goals, to faith. But it seems to me that if you are seeking happiness, and relying on one mode of ethical thinking to do so, you need to have faith in your decision that the chosen mode of action will bring happiness. Otherwise, why bother? But how on earth can we know this to be true? Even when we live for pure self interest, there is no guarantee that we will find happiness. There is a good chance that my self interest will collide with that of my husband’s or sister’s or another loved one, and their hurt will then be my hurt – counseling out happiness.
And then there is happiness we associate with obtaining and owning things. And yet things bring only a fleeting happiness, after which we get bored and we look to the next new shinny toy or thing we think will offer fulfillment. And yet this culture most of us live in the United States, the culture of consumerism, lives by a faith that a thing will bring us happiness. But it is an unfulfilling happiness at best – not unlike when a horse trainer dangles an apple in-front of the horse to make him or her go. We travel the merry-go-round seeking, but finding no true exit to happiness.
Then there is the idea that happiness comes in great tasks. Our culture also encourages this idea: anyone can be president, anyone can become a millionaire in the US, and anyone can write the great American novel. To be an American is to have faith in this absolute potential for greatness. This is the great Enlightenment lie we still hold onto today: that we are all born equal and rational and if allowed to roam the free market place of economics, ideas, knowledge, and even of faith – we will find happiness. But I also must question this formula for living well. We are not all born equal, and we are rarely taught to be rational thinkers (if we were, advertising would not work on us). Rather, some of us are born rich, and some poor. Some people are born with stronger DNA, and some with defective DNA. Some are born in areas where there are wonderful public resources, and others are born in areas where there are gang shootings weekly. We are not born equal. And as for being rational creatures, how we conduct political elections and how advertisers play on our faith in consumerism should be enough to put the rational myth to bed. Most of us are emotional creatures that make decision on emotional drive and not a rational thought process. This is why the “just say no” approach to sexual education is not a success. I do not mean to sound like a determinist here, but how many truly rational teens have you known in your life? Regardless, we hold faith on the “equal” and “rational” line of living well.
So I am left with the question of whether faith is needed for happiness? When I say faith, I mean it not only in a spiritual since (such as the faith of Christianity), but in its more generic definition: belief in, devotion to, or trust in somebody or something, especially without logical proof. Is true, sustaining happiness possible without faith? Somehow I suspect it is not. or, maybe sustainable happiness is also a myth. Maybe there is only fleeting moments of happiness?
What do you think?