Happiness That Lasts



cover Tyger, tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies,
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And, when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand & what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Tyger, tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
  (William Blake, Songs of Experience)

Happiness is a universal need, and at the same time the purpose of our life. If people could be really happy, there would be no ill-will, because they would be satisfied with their present condition. It therefore follows that happiness is closely allied to contentment. But what makes a person happy? I have little doubt that if the mass of humanity were asked that question, a number of views would emerge. It is probable that first on the list would be having more money, followed by a position of sufficient power to control their own lives (and also surreptitiously the lives of others).

Those with more experience would see that health was the most important prerequisite for happiness, and I do not think that anyone with common sense could deny this. The problem here is how to attain and maintain this health. So often it appears to be an illusion, and, indeed, the nature of life itself with the frailty of the human body makes this an inevitable concomitant of our incarnation. Some of a quieter, more profound disposition would see friendship as an essential part of happiness. This friendship may have sexual or family overtones, but in the end there is a mutual benevolence that is independent of even these two vital constituents. Others would see love as the full achievement of happiness, and few would dispute the accuracy of that observation, and indeed it is the third of the theological virtues praised in I Corinthians 13:13. The snag here, however, is the multi-dimensional character of what we call love - it ranges in breadth from sexual desire (not so far removed sometimes from undisguised lust) to a warm-hearted concern and self-giving for all people.

How is this achieved? Love is in fact an act of the will, but it is not the egoistical will at all so much as the will of God, whose nature is always to have love, acting through our own little wills. It is very hard to give ourselves over absolutely to God's love, because this may necessitate a descent into darkness. Indeed, I would insist that such a descent is essential if we are to know the loving nature of God, because while I, as a person, take precedence, God himself is occluded from my sight. Therefore darkness, even up to temporary despair, may be an essential staging post in our journey to happiness, but if we persist to the end the iridescence of joy will make itself known to us, and it will be made lasting through the ever-increasing warmth of happiness.

This progress from the indifferent, rather selfish life of the man or woman in the street to those who know happiness is not a particularly easy or pleasant one, but I have no doubt that it is the authentic way. It was not for nothing that Moses and the children of Israel had to traverse the wilderness for forty years before they reached the frontier of the Promised Land - and poor Moses himself was not allowed to enter because in some undisclosed way he had displeased God. Jeremiah, possibly the greatest of the writing prophets, was confirmed in the truth of his prophecy by his total rejection at the hands of the Israelites, who carried him forcibly with them into Egypt; they themselves, and presumably Jeremiah also, were all destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar, who hailed from Babylon.

In the much more apocryphal story of Job, he too had to be deprived of all earthly possessions and even his own health before the lingering shreds of his egoistical pride could be removed. The greatest of all the stories of suffering as a necessary precursor of happiness, however, is seen in the life of Jesus; though without sin he followed the course of any other man; though he gave of himself heart and soul to all who sought his help, he was despised and rejected by all people as the Jews themselves engineered his execution at the hands of Pontius Pilate and his Roman soldiers. In the end, he was resurrected, and the completion of his story has been one of personal triumph and some degree of civilization of those who claim to follow his path.

How many real Christians there are is another matter entirely. As Madame Roland (1754-93) said with regard to the French Revolution: "Oh Liberty! Oh Liberty! What crimes are committed in thy name!"

It seems evident from this initial meditation that merely possessing the things of this world will not produce anything more than a fleeting happiness: the world goes on, even if we get stuck on a particularly delightful present moment. None of the earlier prerequisites for happiness that I have already mentioned are necessarily illusory, but in themselves they cannot help but be evanescent. The value of them paradoxically is to prove their transitory nature, and how neutral they are in our own lives. This applies even to health inasmuch as it may be that chronic disablement is our way forward to attaining inner peace.

I strove with none; for none was worth my strife;
Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art;
I warmed both hands before the fire of life;
It sinks, and I am ready to depart.
(Finis, Epigrams c Death. Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864)).

Chapter 1The darkness inherent in life
Chapter 2The illusion of wealth
Chapter 3The place of power
Chapter 4Health in relationship to happiness
Chapter 5Friendship: a key to happiness
Chapter 6Love and its variations
Chapter 7Spirituality and religion
Chapter 8Beauty as an approach to God
Chapter 9Freedom: the eternal quest
Chapter 10Truth and illusion
Chapter 11The quest for happiness
happiness.zipComplete Book as Zip File

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copyright©1999 by Martin Israel.