I was thinking of the nature of happiness the other day. I attempted to find a quote by Socrates on happiness because in high school I was very inspired by a movie I watched in my “mentally gifted minor” class (I don’t like “gifted” programs, all kids are gifted if we cater to them instead of ourselves) I must have been 14 years old.
Anyway in this class we did get to consider philosophy in ways the rest of my school missed out. Every child should be considered mentally gifted and given these opportunites…anyway, I digress. What moved me so much was at the end of the movie it described what happiness was as far as Socrates was concerned. (I searched the web for a Socrates quote that might be a synopsis for the conclusion made in this movie, but couldn’t find one and I’m certainly not a Socrates scholar, so forgive my clumsiness in recalling exactly what moved me so much…my memory is known to be faulty and this was almost 3 decades ago)
What I remember is that the movie concluded that what Socrates believed was that happiness was not a state of mind achieved on a daily basis. There might be moments of “happiness” but it is not a constant state of being. Happiness was to Socrates the culmination of a life well lived. To be able to come to the end of ones life and know that one has lived as best as one could. A final conclusion of contentment, perhaps, in a life well lived. And I would assume that means a life lived with integrity, and honesty, not a life defined by perfection or daily pleasure.
Anyway, I may be totally mangling what Socrates taught about happiness and yes, this could be cleared up with some research, but reading evades me for the most part these days, so it’s not going to happen. I will, however, continue with my recollection of how I was moved at that young age and have always held that view of happiness in some vague way in my mind.
As I struggle with physical debilitation and a hugely limited life I simply think, am I living with integrity, am I helping others in whatever small way that I can? Will I be able to look back at my life when the end comes and say I’ve lived a life with integrity and honesty? For the most part I can say yes. Have I felt happy most of my life? Absolutely not. I’ve virtually never felt happy. But as I understood the movie about Socrates ideas on happiness…it’s simply not a daily feeling. And that is what modern culture suggests happiness should be.
The medicalization and pathologizing of anything other than a mood state of happiness presupposes that life is not filled with suffering. I’ve never heard of a philosophy or religion throughout the ages that didn’t contend with the human condition being one fraught with suffering. And as I understand that, that includes all of us, not just those of us that are labeled depressed or disturbed in some other kind of way.
The New Age “religions” of course dispute this, but I’ve not run into any “practicing” New Agers that haven’t been totally messed up in some way.
I had a friend— a woman who I will venture to say was totally happy. She made everyone she touched feel like the most important person in her life. She was incredibly giving. But I also know, because she was honest, that she suffered. The most giving, beautiful human being I’ve ever met suffered and I dare say she was supremely happy as well, in large part because she suffered and accepted it as part of life. She was fully human and did not pretend otherwise…..
I’d like to add, this wonderful woman died in a tragic car accident. She died lying next to a friend of hers, who is also a friend of mine. She knew she was dying and she was mostly concerned about her friend lying on the gurney next to her. She offered words of comfort. She died in peace, knowing that she was about to die, and passed on her loving-kindness to my friend, who is another inspiring woman who has continued to inspire me.
First published January 2009
Post-script upon republishing: I’ve found that since I completed my long drug withdrawal that while perhaps I still cannot say that I am happy most of the time I DO experience JOY on a regular basis. Momentary perhaps, at the sight of the sunset, or while I’m cuddling with my cat…and hundreds of other simple ways when I’m confronted with this miracle that is life.
When I was on those multiple drugs I did not feel such intense wondrous, SIMPLE joy. I NEVER felt it. Having access to the full spectrum is what makes me happy…regardless of what my mood is at any given moment I can feel it ALL now…total despair to complete and utter joy. Amen. I continue to recover…the skies the limit…who knows what awaits me once my body is healthy.