November 13, 2012

Fun Writing: Happiness

I've written a quote on the top of the pages in my planner for this week: "They have been allowed to assume that happiness is a goal, rather than a by-product."

It's taken from a quote from Hilda Neatby, as quoted in "The Unteachables: A Generation That Cannot Learn."
The bored “graduates” of elementary and high schools seem, in progressive language, to be “incompletely socialized.” Ignorant even of things that they might be expected to know, they do not care to learn. They lack an object in life, they are unaware of the joy of achievement. They have been allowed to assume that happiness is a goal, rather than a by-product.
 Neatby's critique of my generation strikes at a mindset that I find myself living. Is it wrong to view happiness as a goal?

"Why would I obey God unless it made me happy?" I asked A last June. C. S. Lewis writes in The Great Divorce, "No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it," and the entire book highlights the weight of the choices that we make. John Piper proposes Christian Hedonism, and titles an evangelistic pamphlet "For Your Joy."

These voices would suggest that joy (which is long-term happiness, after all) could be an end goal. But then over this I hear Socrates reasoning:
So we have to consider whether we are establishing the guardians looking to their having the most happiness. Or else, whether looking to this happiness for the city as a whole, we must see if it comes to be in the city, and must compel and persuade these auxiliaries and guardians to do the same, so that they'll be the best possible craftsmen at their jobs, and similarly for all the others, and, with the entire city growing thus and being fairly founded, we must let nature assign to each of the groups its share of happiness. (Republic, 421c)
Socrates' logic is that the city as a whole can only be happy if each part performs the role designated by its nature. Yesterday evening, S was telling me that one of the professors at King's interprets The Republic as entirely a metaphor for the soul. (Socrates himself explains that his purpose in discussing a city is to make the essence of justice more clear, 369a, though at this point in my reading I think his dialogue is meant to refer to real cities, too.)

So the individual parts of a happy soul won't necessarily be happy, not when their happiness injures the well-being of the whole organism. I think this accords with Neatby's observation. If I see happiness as an immediate goal, I'll lose the happiness that can only be earned. There are many things to be desired, but no satisfying short-cuts.


Kristen said...

I really liked hearing all of your thoughts about this all written out. Thanks for sharing, dear :)

Also. We should hang out sometime because I miss you.