Monday, August 3, 2015

There are, in fact, wrong questions.

I read something this morning on Jessica's blog where she requested some thoughts concerning a question.  But as my answer would have been quite long, I decided to write my own post instead.

She linked to another blog, and if you really want to go there, you can find it from hers.  That other blog is the type that I do occasionally come across myself and really find no redeeming value, to be honest.  I'll even read some of the stuff on blogs like that to see where their thinking goes.  But, to risk offense, I find it to be a lot of feel-good patter which I'm sure many people find comforting but which I see very little truth in.  There are many counselors who cater to today's world and today's "modern thinking", getting their sources from various places without any solid grounding.

Anyway, that really has nothing to do with my topic because even feel-good patter can have truth in it somewhere.

But this question isn't it, at least not without some qualifiers.  The question is:

 Imagine everything in your life was fixed. You had all you needed. You were, brace yourself… actually happy. Content even. Then what? What would you do with your time here?

I submit this question, at least in most contexts, is at best not a question that makes sense, and at worse is not something we want to engage our brains upon.  (It's important to have that qualifier in there because by itself this question is pretty open-ended and could have various interpretations depending upon your pretext.  There are occasions which you might try useless or pointless thought experiments to discover something about yourself.  From my perspective, I don't agree that this is useful, however.)

The basic problem that I have with it is that it is ultimately hedonistic.

The question sounds right today to us because ours is a society that is bent upon the idea that happiness should be ours--it's even a right!--and that it is Good to avoid pain and suffering.

The question assumes that the very purpose of life is to be happy.  It further assumes that we cannot be "actually happy" (let's even substitute "completely at peace" or whatever other euphemism you choose there) if things are not "fixed" with our lives in some utopian perfection.  It assumes that all suffering is "bad" or unwelcome.  It assumes that if we are unhappy, we need to find a way to become happy.

I've got nothing wrong with being happy.  I like to be happy.  I don't like to be sad.  In fact, I'd agree that the purpose of life is to be happy--just not in the hedonistic way that people would assume.  We were created for bliss and happiness.  We were created for ultimate joy, not suffering.  I'll even agree that we choose suffering in a way.  But we don't get to un-choose it; it comes along with the territory of being human and being able to choose to begin with.  And suffering is not always what it appears to be.

My view doesn't make a lot of sense to many people, I suspect, but I find great value in suffering and trials.  Now, of course, to be honest I have it really good; I acknowledge the fact that I am very, very blessed and I have really not experienced true great tragedy in my life.  A fact for which I am *extremely* grateful.  But I have experienced many long, long spells in which I have faced real challenge and real depression and real reason to question life and purpose.

Each and every time I have come out concluding that I became a better person for it.  Every time I see that not only am I better and that there were hidden blessings, but that it in fact brought me such intense moments of joy that I never could have come otherwise.  I no longer question why, why me, or why this, because I know there is reason and purpose and I am almost always brought to some level of understanding (never complete...yet).  Even when I don't understand, that doesn't mean anything because there is a lot I don't understand.

I'm not such a fool that I will go out welcoming suffering, and certainly I'll avoid it when I can.  But when presented, I will accept it in my own way (though perhaps with accompanying rage).  We get much further in life with suffering than we do when we coast along in good times.

To address the actual question, it is actually nonsensical to me.  My purpose in life, my reason for being, my approach to life, my use of time really has nothing to do with whether or not I am happy.  I don't have to hinge any sense of worth or purpose on a feeling or situation.  I will keep on keeping on no matter what.  Situations change; the amount of money in my bank will determine at least some of my actions, certainly, and I am both enabled to do some things and limited in doing others.

I think it is, in fact, categorically wrong to focus so much on "happiness", both from a moral standpoint as well as a health one.  We start to think that our desires and our feelings are the be-all and end-all of life.  When bad things strike, we will put undue pressure on ourselves to fix them or to find some immediate purpose that relates to something specific.  We blame things on ourselves or on others instead of allowing suffering to lead us where it is meant to.  We start to believe that our feelings possess much more reality than they do.  We bow away from bad situations because they are "bad" instead of letting them have their way in teaching us.

I could go on and on.

I haven't even touched on the concept that happy=boring in many cases.  People languish when they have what they want or what they believe they need.  We need challenge, we need growth, we need to not be self-centered, we need to realize that our feelings and desires are fleeting things and that we don't actually own any *rights* to whatever we think might make us happy.  We even need the negative things in life sometimes.

Also, this isn't to say happiness and contentment aren't possible, because they most assuredly are.  Few people find it because few people know where it resides.

1 comment:

Jessica P said...

It's interesting that you have interpreted this question in a totally and completely different way than I ever understood or related to it. To me, there is absolutely nothing hedonistic about it. It is a question of spiritual truth. This is a very valid question that has been asked throughout time in many different forms. It is, basically, "When you do not have to worry about anything concerning yourself anymore, what do you then focus on?"

This came up for me very strongly in meditations last year...when you basically have everything you would desire for your own life, what next?

It is not a question of "what makes me happy?" or even "What do I base my happiness on?" It really isn't even about personal happiness at all. It is about allowing the mind to set aside those things which we do worry about- the mundane stuff...and asking ourselves- if we didn't have to put so much attention and focus on those things, what would we do? Where would our energy go? What would we focus on?

It is a very good question, one that people sometimes never consider.