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Searching For Happiness
Throughout the course of human history, happiness has been sought after and contemplated upon. Happiness has been dissected and treated by those great thinkers whose writings have imbued the world's thought. Happiness has been searched for, longed for, prayed for, and chased off the ends of the earth. This search, this chase, however, has never quite come to an end; a categorical conclusion, a definitive answer, has never been found. Perhaps this is inevitable; perhaps this hole of longing must never be filled. It may be that how happiness is achieved cannot be absolutely defined, but what if it can? What if, in this age of confusion and hopelessness in which man finds himself, one could pinpoint just how to attain this seemingly abstract thing? It is so. In reality, achieving happiness is not so daunting if explained correctly and pursued using reason of the proper quality. It becomes clear that happiness is not difficult to find - if one knows where to look.
One may search for happiness in material prosperity, physical pleasure, or labour; he may think it lies in health, friendship, or charity. Nevertheless, while the man may find fleeting feelings of joy or satisfaction in these various things, he will never find true happiness. Where, then, can this happiness be found? It is no other than a result of the human being doing the highest thing. Through sturdy reasoning, honest contemplation, and its self-evidentiary essence, it becomes clear how this happiness is realized. While tedious and (perchance) tiring, the reasoning behind this upcoming postulation is of the utmost importance. The truth is as follows, conveyed in these seven premises and one conclusion:
1. Happiness is reached when one's life is fulfilled to the maximum extent possible.
2. The greatest fulfillment of one's life is equal to the purpose for which he exists or his function.
3. God created the universe, therein likewise creating man in it.
4. God created man for the purpose of His own glorification and to follow Him.
5. Therefore, man's purpose, or function, is to glorify and enjoy God.
6. Therefore, one's life is fulfilled to the greatest degree by glorifying and enjoying God.
7. Therefore, happiness eventuates by one glorifying God.
Happiness is not an end to be pursued in itself; it is a byproduct of the human being pursuing his ultimate end, the worship and enjoyment of the One who created him.
To begin this dialectic, it must first be expounded what happiness is, as well as the criteria for asserting its presence or lack thereof. Many thinkers, be they of the philosophical, psychological, or theological kind, have treated happiness in great depth. That great mind of Aristotle calls happiness “the highest good.” He writes in his seminal work The Nicomachean Ethics:
Every art and every investigation, and similarly every action and pursuit, is considered to aim at some good. ... our activities [then] have some end which we want for its own sake, and for the sake of which we want all the other ends. (2004, pp. 3-4)
To summarize, every activity of human beings is engaged in to achieve some goal, goals which Aristotle calls “goods.” Aristotle goes on to form an epistemic explanation of there being a “highest” good, and what precisely this good is. Essentially, some goods, or goals, are better and more important than others. There is, therefore, some good that is higher than all others; there is a highest good. He continues, “well, happiness more than anything else is thought to be just such [a good], because we always choose it for itself, and never for any other reason” (p. 14). Aristotle's argument is perfectly sound. All other goods, such as pleasure, wealth, honour, health, or intelligence, do not fit those necessarily set qualifications that lead to them being good in themselves. Thus, let it be continually credited that happiness is synonymous with man's highest earthly good. With this axiom established, what must then be determined is what precisely this happiness entails. The common opinion of most is that the definition of happiness is quite similar to that which Immanuel Kant ascribed. In his customarily dense work The Metaphysical Principles of Virtue, Kant (1964) defined human happiness as the “enjoyment of life” (p. 593). While this definition ought to be denoted, Kant offers happiness another, more complete delineation; Kant tendered that happiness is “complete satisfaction of one's condition” (p. 593). This latter definition will be relied upon in the perpetuation of this discussion; happiness is the steady state of total contentment with one's existence. It automatically follows that happiness is only secured when one's life is fulfilled to the maximum extent possible. This rests upon the aforementioned definition and its use of words such as “complete” and “total.” If in one's contentment, there is not that state of being total and complete, it cannot follow that he is happy in the true sense. It should be noted that this contentment or satisfaction of life is beyond everyday joys and pains, for one could be happy yet still experience temporary feelings of sorrow or sadness. To return, as well as for now conclude, let it be deduced that one's happiness is acquired when that one's life is fulfilled to the greatest degree.
As has been discovered, happiness is the state of total contentment with one's life, happiness is the highest good, and happiness is achieved when one's life is fulfilled to that maximum level. It is then currently appropriate to follow with what this greatest fulfillment is. Now, it is evident that every created thing that exists exists for some purpose or function. The wristwatch exists to specify the time; the phone exists to provide a convenient method of communication; the refrigerator exists to ensure and prolong the freshness of food. Furthermore, it is likewise evident that every created thing is most perfectly fulfilled when exercising that function which is the basis for its existence. A thing that is a watch is most perfectly fulfilled when it correctly identifies and tells the time; a thing that is a phone is most perfectly fulfilled when it performs that provision of communication; a thing that is a refrigerator is, yes, most perfectly fulfilled, when it carries out that function as mentioned above. The human being, in all its complexities, qualities, and abilities, was undoubtedly created. It follows logically, then, that human beings, being created things, exist for some function; human beings have a purpose behind their existence. Following that already discovered truth statement on how a thing is most greatly fulfilled, human beings are most greatly fulfilled when exercising, or living by, the function or purpose for which they were created. Therefore, let it be reckoned that human beings are most fulfilled when living in agreement with the function for which they exist.
It has priorly been found that happiness is reached when one's life is fulfilled to the most maximal extent possible, which is also equal to the purpose for which one exists. At this moment, there must be posited another major and minor premise forthwith, that the existence of God is a reality and that this God created the universe and oversaw the beginning of the existence of man in it. Let us begin with that major premise, that God exists. The existence of God is self-evident and can be logically displayed in numerous manners. God can be demonstrated to necessarily exist by means ontological, cosmological, and teleological. Let us direct attention towards those first two, being in the realms of ontology and cosmology; alas, the teleological argument for God's existence must be explained at another time.
Ahead of any continuance, some terms must be explained. First, ontology “seeks the classification and explanation of entities” and beings (Hammond, 2017, para. 1). Second, cosmology deals with the science of the universe's origin. Thus, an ontological argument for the existence of God would be concerned with the nature and essence of God's being. In a similar application, a cosmological argument for the existence of God would approach His existence based on the philosophical and scientific implications of the beginning of the universe. With these two terms rightly defined, it is now appropriate to continue.
To return to delivering the two settled arguments for God's existence, once again the “ontological argument” and “cosmological argument,” let us start with that former of the two. The ontological argument for God's existence was first formulated and articulated by Anselm of Canterbury, an Italian Monk of the 11th century. In his Proslogion, Anselm (2007) writes:
So even the fool must admit that something than which nothing greater can be thought exists at least in his understanding, since he understands this when he hears it, and whatever is understood exists in the understanding. And surely that than which a greater cannot be thought cannot exist only in the understanding. For if it exists only in the understanding, it can be thought to exist in reality as well, which is greater. So if that than which a greater cannot be thought exists only in the understanding, then the very thing than which a greater cannot be thought is something than which a greater can be thought. But that is clearly impossible. Therefore, there is no doubt that something than which a greater cannot be thought exists both in the understanding and in reality. (p. 82)
The premises of the ontological argument are as follows: a maximally great, all-surpassing being may exist; therefore, a maximally great, all-surpassing being exists in some possible world; a maximally great, all-surpassing being, by its very nature, cannot only be confined to existing in some possible world, and must exist in every possible world to be in ontological accordance with its nature of being; a maximally great, all-surpassing being exists in every possible world; therefore, a maximally great, all-surpassing being exists in the actual world; thus, a maximally great, all-surpassing being exists. While the ontological argument requires of its ponderers dedicated focus, all of its premises are beyond authentic refutation, and thus the argument is sound. Next, one must move to the latter of those two previously mentioned arguments for the existence of God, that being the cosmological argument. This argument is nearly as old as thought itself and was first reasoned definitively by the great mind of Plato, which was agreed with by that other great, Aristotle. Plato reasoned that: every finite (and thus dependent) thing has a cause by which it exists; no finite, dependent thing can cause itself to begin to exist; therefore, there must be some original cause that is not an effect, as otherwise would exist an infinite regress of causes; therefore, there exists an original, first cause. While this argument of a first cause is principally equivalent to modern expoundings of the cosmological argument, it is only partially so. Arguably, the best articulation, at present time, of the cosmological argument for God's existence comes from Dr. William Lane Craig, an American philosopher. Dr. Craig's (2009) rendering, coined the “Kalam cosmological argument,” is exhibited his work The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, in the following syllogism:
Everything that begins to exist has a cause; the universe began to exist; the universe, therefore, has a cause; if the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists who, without the universe, is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful. (pp. 102, 194)
Therefore, such a Creator exists. The cosmological argument for the existence of God, likewise to the aforestated ontological argument, is beyond reproach, as each of its premises and consequences withstands any investigation of their logicalness. As has been illustrated and is self-evident, God exists. It can then be displayed utilizing logic and reason the metaphysical attributes of God. As out of the necessity of His nature of being, God is, in the words of Anselm, “that which a greater cannot be thought,” He must be excellent in every available attribute (2007). It then follows that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. Additionally, as God caused and created the universe in which space, time, and matter are all interdependent of one another, it is out of logical necessity that God must be outside and thus unaffected and sovereign over each of them; God is spaceless, timeless, and immaterial. Lastly, as God possesses supreme rule over the universe (due to His having created it), God must have either created mankind or at least allowed mankind to begin to exist.
To conclude, in restating that third premise that has just heretofore been discussed, God exists and created the universe, overseeing the beginning of man in it.
It has thus far in this daunting dialectic been ascertained that happiness is reached when one's life is fulfilled to the greatest extent possible, that this greatest fulfillment of one's life is equal to the purpose for which he exists, or, his function, and that God created the universe as well as mankind. With this new segment of this august discourse having been introduced, there will be introduced with it a fourth premise: that God created man for His own glorification and to follow Him.
Now it is evident that man as a living thing is distinct from all other living things. The functional capacity for rational thought, the possession of free will, and the holding of a conscience, are all unique characteristics of the human being. Those first two mentioned qualities, that of a capacity for rational thought, as well as the possession of a free will, fall into the same metaphysical category, that is, that human beings have the capacity to overcome base desires which are produced according to and by their flesh and the biological reactions within it. No other earthly living thing has this ability. A dog, for example, may appear to govern its actions in some quasi-rational manner; but in reality, it only does so based on impressions that its owner has made. Contrarily, man does indeed enjoy the aptitude to supersede his biological drives and the environment around him, even if only to a minimal extent. Furthermore, the human being is likewise distinctive from his co inhabitants on the issue of the conscience. It is highly observable, even self-evident, that human beings have a conscience, which historian Jacques Barzun (2001) describes in his historical saga From Dawn to Decadence as “self-consciousness about morals” (p. 271). Each man knows when he commits a wrong, as he is plagued with that persistent nagging by his conscience toward his soul, often resulting in a sense of bitterness being instilled upon his self. Therefore, permit it granted that this newly-discovered axiom, that the human is unique from all other living things in that it has free will, a capacity for rational thought, and a conscience, is indeed just that, an axiom.
At present, then, as it has formerly been discovered that God must have overseen the creation of man and that man is unique, being the only earthly being that retains the three aforementioned qualities of rationality, freedom of will, and that of a moral conscience, there must then be searched for an explanation that gives account as to why God has charged mankind with such properties. To provide a logical rationale for this, it must be recalled that God is that being of which “a greater cannot be thought,” and it must be remembered, His attribute of omnibenevolence - that He is totally good (Anselm, 2007, p. 82). As God is the highest being and unlimitedly good, such characteristics must be reflected, and thus permeate, in all that He does. The reverberation of this conclusion is thus: whatever God wills must be perfect and the highest of all things that could be willed. Parenthetically, this comes not necessarily as a result of His willing it, but rather simply must be, so as to be in accordance with His perfect nature. If, then, God willed to install in man the three forenamed traits so as to make him wholly different from all other living things, and whatever God wills is the higher of what could otherwise be willed, there exists the logical consequence that He willed such so that man may do a very high thing with these traits. Why not, then, should man do any other than the highest thing? Definitively, God gave man these special qualities of rational thought, freedom of will, and a conscience, to do the highest thing that man could do.
It must be found, then, what exactly is this highest thing that man can do. Nevertheless, humorously, what could that highest thing possibly be, other than to follow the most incredible being? It cannot be thought that the highest thing that man can do is to follow the highest thing, as, one, this would create an infinite repetition, and two, the vaster category of mere things is inferior to that more intricate category of beings. Therefore, it follows consequently that the highest thing that human beings can do is follow the highest being. Even withal, the highest being, due to His unique ontological category and His perfect attributes, naturally, necessarily, and rightly demands glorification. In all this intellectual arduity, lest it is forgotten who the highest being is, let us recall that He is no other than God. Therefore, the highest thing that man can do is follow and glorify God.
In consequence of what has been considered and canvassed in this last premise, God created man to follow and glorify Him.
As has been found that one's happiness is acquired when that one's life is fulfilled to the greatest degree, that human beings are most fulfilled when living under the function for which they exist, and finally that God exists and created the universe, likewise overseeing the beginning of man in it to follow and glorify Him, one finds that the purpose, or function, of man, is to glorify and enjoy God.
The purpose of a thing is most perfectly defined as the reason for its existence. It can also plainly be discerned that if a thing is intelligently created, then the arbiter of the thing's purpose is the being who created it. For example, a man who designs and produces a piece of equipment is the only one who can provide an objective purpose for the existence of said equipment. While someone else, who did not produce the equipment, may be able to put it to an appropriate use that is different from that which its original designer designated, the original designer is the only one who can truly assign a meaning to its existence, as he is the one who caused it to begin to exist. Similarly, man's original designer, God, is the only one who possesses dominion over the identification of man's ultimate purpose. As discovered in that most previously discussed premise, God created man to follow and glorify Him. The purpose, or function, of man is, ergo, to glorify and enjoy God.
What must now be remembered is the secondly found premise of this expedition, being that the greatest fulfillment of one's life is equal to the purpose for which he exists, or, his function. Along with the knowledge of the truth of the most recently discovered fifth premise, that the purpose, or function, of man is to glorify and enjoy God, it is made quite conspicuous, a sixth premise: that one's life is fulfilled to the greatest degree by his enjoyment and glorification of God.
Now in this concluding premise, there is reached a denouement. A culmination of all that has been discovered and proven on this lettered voyage is reached. There has been reached that beautiful and awe-inspiring truth, that happiness is found by one glorifying God.
It must now be synopsized all that has been established in this dialectic. First, one's happiness is acquired when that one's life is fulfilled to the greatest degree. Second, human beings are most fulfilled when living in accordance with the function for which they exist. Third, God exists and created the universe, likewise overseeing the beginning of man in it. Fourth, God created man to follow and glorify Him. Fifth, man's purpose, or function, is to glorify and enjoy God. Sixth, one's life is fulfilled to the greatest degree by the enjoyment and glorification of God. Seventh and inevitably, happiness is achieved by glorifying God.
The human species has an obsession with happiness. As Aristotle noted, it is the ultimate incentive behind everything one does. While it is the highest good, it has morphed into an idol, a totem. Be this for better or worse, it certainly merits that happiness be treated seriously, with inordinate importance. As has been discovered throughout this continued contemplation, there lay at the pinnacle of the final hierarchy one being, God. Realized, then, is that fact that He alone is worthy of worship, as only He is completely perfect. Happiness is not to be treated as a means or as an end; it is merely a byproduct of another activity. This activity, as has been brought to light across this superficially impenetrable trek, is the pursuement and glorification of God. Throughout this adventure, this expedition for truth, something beautiful and good, has remained, waiting patiently for its discovery. For through this quest, the truth was found. Happiness, properly defined, is not an end to be sought after in itself; happiness is a byproduct of the human being pursuing his ultimate end, the enjoyment and glorification of the One who created him.
Anselm, & Williams, T. (2007). Basic Writings. Hackett Publishing Company.
Aristotle, & Barnes, J. (2004). The Nicomachean Ethics. (J. A. K. Thomson, Trans., H. Tredennick, Ed.). Penguin Books.
Barzun, J. (2001). From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life. Harper Perennial.
Craig, W. L., & Moreland, J. P. (2009). The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. John Wiley & Sons.
Hammond, M. (2017, July 11). Education Studies. The University of Warwick. Retrieved December 9, 2022, from warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/ces/research/current/socialtheory/maps/ology/
Kant, I. (1964). The Metaphysical Principles of Virtue. Bobbs-Merrill.