Choose Your Happiness Level
We all desire happiness. What does “happiness” mean?
Happiness itself can be defined in many different ways, it may have all kinds of components, it may be a life’s work, or even no work at all, but we are, most of us, in pursuit of this elusive goal.
We experience happiness on four different levels. Each of us makes choices day by day about happiness. The choice will be to make either happiness level 1, 2, 3, or 4 our identity.
Happiness in a thing. This kind of happiness is based on something external to the self, is short-lived and, on reflection, we do not consider that it is all there is to human happiness. The pleasure they give is immediate and direct such as eating an ice cream cone, buying a brand new car, going on vacation. Their pleasure is short lived and intermittent. They must be replaced by yet another ice cream cone, or new car, or vacation. Until such replacements take place our happiness is on hold.
The second level of happiness involves the ego. (Ego is Latin for I) This kind of happiness results from competition with another person. The self is seen in terms of how we measure up to others. It has been called “the comparison game.” Such happiness is rather unstable and, if one fails, can lead to unhappiness and sense of worthlessness. Exclusive pursuit tends to oppress others. Most people would not imagine a world as satisfactory if it was composed of only happiness #2 type people.
The second level of happiness is not totally satisfying. There is something missing.
The happiness #3 that comes from seeing the good in others and doing the good for others. It is, in essence, other-regarding action. Happiness #3 is, in some sense, at war with happiness #2. One cannot be at the same time in competition with someone else and doing the good for and seeing the good in them. Most people would prefer a world (community, family, relationships) structured around the pursuit of happiness #3 than entirely based in happiness #2. Happiness #3 is higher than happiness #2. The problem with #3 is that it is necessarily limited. We cannot be someone else’s everything. For example, we or they, will die and if our happiness is contingent upon them, it dies with them. “There must be more than this.”
This category, the most difficult to describe, encompasses a reach for fullness and perfection of happiness. The fullness, therefore, of goodness, beauty, truth and love. So we recognize in this category, those things that are, in a sense, beyond what we are capable of doing purely on our own.
Every person wishes to think of himself as “good.” The question is not whether one wants to be good, but how we interpret the “good.” When presented with the Four Levels of Happiness, most people naturally desire Happiness levels 3 and 4. Levels 3 and 4 also pave the way to virtue-based ethics.
Spitzer, S.J., Robert. “Four Levels of Happiness.” Unpublished lecture (1999).
Beatitudo = happiness or blessedness
Sublime = to lift up or elevate
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