The past month or so has felt a lot like those times where life throws you a curveball. My grandmother passed away and work has been in one of it’s more stressful cycles. All of this has culminated in my coming face-to-face with some of the struggles that have been a recurring theme in my life: feelings of being stuck and never pushing myself to reach my full potential.
There is one passage that I’ve read in my life that stuck with me more than anything else I’ve ever read, and during all of this struggle and reflection, it kept echoing in my mind:
“26. And he said unto them, ‘If a man told God that he wanted most of all to help the suffering world, no matter the price to himself, and God answered and told him what he must do, should the man do as he is told?’
27. ‘Of course, Master!’ cried the many. ‘It should be pleasure for him to suffer the tortures of hell itself, should God ask it!’
28. ‘No matter what those tortures, nor how difficult the task?’
29. ‘Honor to be hanged, glory to be nailed to a tree and burned, if so be that God has asked,’ said they.
30. ‘And what would you do,’ the Master said unto the multitude, ‘if God spoke directly to your face and said, ‘I COMMAND THAT YOU BE HAPPY IN THE WORLD AS LONG AS YOU LIVE.’ What would you do then?’
31. And the multitude was silent, and not a voice, not a sound was heard upon the hillsides, across the valleys where they stood.”
– Richard Bach, Illusions
This quote has haunted me for nearly a decade now. For many of us, it’s much easier to choose to suffer in order to promote a cause. If we feel compelled by a higher power to support something, we are willing to suffer for it. We go off to war, we fight, we bicker, we starve ourselves, we we even can overwork ourselves in the mission of supporting others.
Many of these actions are in the name of morality and other causes we consider ethically important. And I’m not suggesting that these activities hold no importance.
But what if our top moral priority in life was simply to be happy?
The types of answers you get when you ask what true happiness is can vary drastically, but this is something we as a society have started to try to answer more seriously in the past decade or so. We are starting to see studies making claims about little things here and there, such as we are happy if we exercise regularly than if we don’t, or we’re happier if we regularly express gratitude to others. Even now though, we have nothing like a roadmap to happiness. Many philosophies suggest it is something we can practice. If we choose to be happy and act this way, it becomes an ingrained habit and we simply become happier.
This is something I’ve wrestled with for many years now, and I’ve worked to make it a reality in my own life. Tried my best to choose happiness. But I’ve realized recently that there is somewhat of inherent conundrum.
There is a balancing act between being happy where you are and striving for something better.
If we can choose happiness, and we do, then we can in theory be happy in situation at all, a very Stoic way of seeing life. And Stoicism presents a powerful message of hope to those who do live in truly difficult situations. In the United States, despite recent economic troubles, we still have a wide variety of choices and the ability to live in many different places and do many different things with our lives.
So if we are choosing to be happy with our current situation, what possible motivation could that leave us to strive for a better situation? Aristotle believes happiness is the ultimate goal. Why make any effort to better ourselves and our own life if we can be happy whether we do that or not?
Please share your thoughts to this question with me in the comments! I will be sharing my thoughts in the next post.