Monday, May 15, 2017

On Happiness and Possessions. Introductory Thoughts On The Subject of True Happiness (part 1)

“Is this your first entrance upon the stage of life? Are you come here unprepared and a stranger to the scene? Think you that there is any certainty in the affairs of mankind, when you know that often on swift hour can utterly destroy a man?” (Beothius, "Consolation of Philosophy," Book 2, Prose III)*

The allegorical “Lady Philosophy” sitting on the edge of despairing Boethius’ bed asks if he just fell off the proverbial turnip wagon. He’s not a young man (most likely middle-aged) who has been digging himself an emotional hole from which “the love of wisdom” is trying to raise him. He’s up to his proverbial eyeballs in a veritable “slough of despond,”** the quicksand of despair, worrying over his loss of fortune. Truth be told, that’s the way the big wheel spins when it comes to fortune.

“Wheel goes round, landing on a leap of fate
Life redirected in ways unexpected
Sometimes the odd number wins
The way the big wheel spins”

(Rush, “The Big Wheel”)

Lady Philosophy tells Boethius truthfully why he’s not happy as he is “paying the penalty for your mistaken expectations.” He has not lost his fortune at all! His wife’s father is distraught over his son-in-law’s unjust captivity, his wife longs for her husband and his sons are successful! “Fortune’s hatred has not yet been so great as to destroy all your holds upon happiness: the tempest that is fallen upon you is not too great for you: your anchors hold yet firm and they they should keep ever nigh to you confidence in the present and hope for future time.” (Prose IV)

Yet Lady Philosophy reveals an inescapable fact regarding happiness: “either its completeness never appears, or it never remains.” (Prose IV) One man has abundant wealth but his birth or breeding give him shame; Another man is famous for being nobly born but is without abundant wealth. A third man has wealth and good breeding but is without wife. A fourth man is happily married but is without children and has no heir. A fifth man has children but they bring him shame. “So none is readily at peace with the lost his fortune sends him . . the feelings of the most fortunate men are the most easily affected . . . so small are the troubles which can rob them of complete happiness.” Does this mean happiness is impossible? Or is man to simply be content with misery?

Man is given one possession that is key to his happiness: “If then you are master of yourself, you will be in possession of that which you will never wish to lose, and which Fortune will never be able to take from you.” In other words, happiness comes from a made-up mind and not from the supposed randomness found in the mechanics of the Universe. No, the machine grinds and the Fortune will never be attained due to uncertainty, as it exists outside the person.

Riches merely change hands, especially after one is dead, so riches cannot bring happiness. Riches wear out the man who accumulates. Precious stones are attractive, but they do not need a man in order to be brilliant. All of creation is beautiful and does not require man to view it; besides, “Fortune will never make yours what Nature has made to belong to other things.” Of all that man reckons would bring him happiness, not a single one actually belong to him. Like the saying goes: “you can’t take it with you.”

So what does a man have to bring happiness? “Cease then to seek the wealth you have lost. You have found your friends, and they are the most precious of all riches.”

Chris understood this.

End Part 1

*All quotes are from Boethius, Book 2.

** to borrow from Bunyan--or does Bunyan borrow from Boethius, as the latter precedes the former by nearly 1000 years?

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