Wednesday, May 24, 2017

True Happiness (part 7): Land, Fame, Pleasure

"We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight Of Glory, 1941)

What brings happiness? In previous posts we've defined happiness and have put many sources of happiness to the test and so far, we're still trying to discover the answer to this age-old question.


The great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy answers that question in his short story published in 1886. Pakhom supposes that if he had enough land, life as a peasant farmer would be over--including his fear of the devil himself. Through a series of moves Pakhom begins to acquire land but he is not satisfied with so little--he wants more! In a business deal that's almost too good to be true, Pakhom pays 1,000 rubles to claim as much land as he can in one day by simply walking around, marking the borders with a shovel, but he must end his walk in the same place he began or he will lose his money and any claimed land. 

He begins as early as possible the next day marking his way as he goes, walking wide and far until he realizes that he has gone too far when he notices the sun going down. He must race as fast as he can back to the starting point, or lose everything! And he does--he makes it and is received with great celebration having acquired such a large plot of land. But he has exhausted himself and dies on the spot. The story concludes with Pakhom's servants burying him. “Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.”

Land does not bring happiness. 


"Fame, what you like is in the limo
Fame, what you get is no tomorrow
Fame, what you need you have to borrow
Fame, 'Nein! It's mine!' is just his line
To bind your time, it drives you to, crime
Could it be the best, could it be?"  (David Bowie)

1500 years ago, Beothius learned this lesson from Lady Philosophy: it may be attractive to be well known, but there are plenty of places on earth that will never know your name. And one need not travel too far to discover this truth. Besides if your name is famous, the honor really goes to your forefathers because they are the ones people remember when they hear it. 

Fame fails at giving happiness. 


If we find pleasure on impulse, following the course of nature without restraint, what makes us different than animals? If happiness is found on impulse, then the animals must be more happy than we are. Once the body goes, where will we find happiness then? Are those who are ignored happy if they cannot follow through on their impulses? 

Also, if it is said that happiness is found in wife and children, what if a man is tormented by his wife? What if a man is in grief over his children? What if the husband mistreats the wife? Where is happiness then? Those who are without wife or children--why are they happy without family?

I'll say more on this in tomorrow's conclusion.

"[T]hese things cannot grant the good which they promise; they are not made perfect by the union of all good things in them; they do not lead to happiness as a path . . . " ("Consolation of Philosophy," Book 3, Prose VIII)

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