Saturday, October 07, 2006

Don't Worry, Be Happy? Unrealistic

Rabbi Marc Gellman writes a very enlightening article for Newsweek about happiness. He very rightly points out that villains and sinners are often quite happy, and superheros and saints are many times realistically uneasy. This goes against the current modern assumptions that happiness equals pleasure. Anyone can experience pleasure, sometimes in some very evil ways. That is not happiness.

Happiness, Rabbi Gellman asserts, comes from doing GOOD. There is a difference. The major world religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, according to Gellman, all teach that doing good equals feeling good.

But there is a catch. Doing good over and over again is hard, but it is what equals happiness. Gellman says the obesity problem in society is not caused by caloric intake. It is caused because "we eat what gives us pleasure. It is more pleasurable to sit on your tush and play videogames than it is to run around and sweat."

So, the nebulous modern goal of "happiness/pleasure" is actually a goal of hedonistic sin. Real happiness, lasting happiness comes from doing the hard work of doing good.

In Catholicism, we call this doing works of mercy.

The Works of Mercy

The Corporal Works of Mercy
To feed the hungry
To give drink to the thirsty.
To clothe the naked.
To visit and ransom the captives.
To shelter the homeless.
To visit the sick.
To bury the dead.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy
To admonish sinners.
To instruct the ignorant.
To counsel the doubtful.
To comfort the sorrowful.
To bear wrongs patiently.
To forgive all injuries.
To pray for the living and the dead.

Hat tip to MK for the article.


Charley said...

I would argue that what we need is to be satisfied with 'content' as opposed to 'happy.' Accepting contentedness would allow us to not feel pressured by 'being' happy.

Staying in Balance said...

That's a thought. But I do like the rabbi's redefinition of "happy" as it were. I think that humans are a bit hard wired to equate pleasure with happiness, but in reality, true happiness is much more multidimensional.

mk said...

I have to agree with Charlie that contentedness is better than happy. Happy encourages Godly people to become villans and sinners. This is a main tenent of Buddhism. Sometimes just breathing slowly and deeply helps us get "in the moment" and not crave for happiness. However, going down the checklist of corporal and spiritual works of mercy and doing them would put most of us into "happy" range. Buddhists speak alot about "compassion" translating into compassionate acts. This really seems to all boil down to corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Staying in Balance said...

I can see your point, MK. "Happy" can be equated with "pleasure" which, as you say, can encourage people to become sinners. "Content" is probably closer to the actual state that we can feel, while still on this earth, that is.

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"Slavery ended in medieval Europe only because the church extended its sacraments to all slaves and then managed to impose a ban on the enslavement of Christians (and of Jews). Within the context of medieval Europe, that prohibition was effectively a rule of universal abolition. "— Rodney Stark

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