THE ESSENCE OF HAPPINESS
Here we have, as a matter of fact, reason for the same terror that engulfs a man at the beginning of his study of God. The terrific complexity of man’s life and man’s activity might well seem an overpowering assignment for the limits of one volume. The scope of those activities, stretching from ocean to ocean, from pole to pole, from the earliest beginnings to the limitless future, would be far too much to touch upon, let alone plunge into, if man were not man. Because he is man, there is an element of unity that binds together the whole sweep of man’s doings as closely as his nature binds the individual; there is a common harmonious note that reveals the meaning of the whole apparently discordant chorus.
The key to the mystery of human life is happiness
That note of unity and harmony is human desire. The same force that has driven men apart, that has set nations at one another’s throats, that has wiped individuals and races off the face of the earth, is at the same time the one great focal point of human agreement and harmony. All men agree on this — they want what they want. And because of this desire, men act. In the attainment of what they want we have the essential notion of happiness. It is not pleasure, not enjoyment, but the possession of the object of desire which constitutes happiness. And in this sense all men want to be happy. Happiness is the key to the mystery of human life, of human activity.
Happiness consists in the attainment of the goal of life.
The material of our study in this volume, therefore, is human action, particularly in its culmination in happiness. It is fortunate for our feeble courage in the face of this task that the fundamental notions involved are so clear. At least most of us will agree theoretically on what a human action is; certainly all of us will agree practically in determining when a man is acting humanly. Theoretically, an act is human over which a man has control, an act that is done deliberately, i.e. on purpose, for a precise reason, to attain a definite goal. When we catch ourselves up now and then and ask in astonishment, “Why in the world did I do that?”, only to find there is no answer to the “why” of that question, we are right in concluding that we need sleep, or a vacation, or a visit to the doctor. For while a human being has certainly placed an act, he has not acted humanly. Practically, we have a whole set of phrases to express the difference between a human action and one that is not human. A servant explains: “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that”; and of course the apology must be accepted, even though the coffee spilled on us is, unlike most coffee, incredibly hot. A man whose foot has been trampled in a subway crowd says what he says because he “is angry, not himself”. we are “beside ourselves” with indignation, “in a trance, absent-minded, forgetful, cross, hysterical or terror-stricken”, and of course our actions are not human.
The study of happiness must begin, not at the beginning, but at the end, the goal
For if human they are, then they must be done for some reason, to some end, for some goal. For, after all, action has to do with the attainment of the object of desire, and the object of desire is precisely the goal or end of that particular action. The study of happiness, then, cannot begin at the beginning; it is too intimately wrapped up with the finish or goal. It is not that man’s head is befuddled, but rather that man has the kind of head which makes it necessary to begin at the end. He is not living his life backwards but has that divine faculty of standing off to one side and looking at his life, or of looking ahead of his life, and so is capable of appreciating its meaning as well as its humour. And looking ahead, he will see that the goal does much more than flavour the action directed to it; it does even more than explain the existence of that action, as we shall see presently. For on the determination of the nature of that goal depends the meaning of the whole life of a man, the nature of all his activity, the very destiny of man.
There is a goal of life: Fact of man’s goal — from his activity.
From what we have seen of action that is human, we know the life of man has some end or ends, some goal or goals. The very fact that an act, to measure up to our requirements of human action, must be deliberately controlled, places it as coming from deliberate will; the act is ours and imputable to us because we have willed it. This is universally true of any act that presumes to be human; so that human activity comes from the human will and goes to the object of the human will. In other words, it is placed because of some good, some end, since it proceeds from the instrument of human desire (will) whose only object is good.
The failure of modern philosophy
Here we come upon one of the most drastic failures of modern philosophy. Face to face with the unquestionable fact of finality — purposiveness — in human action, modern philosophy has taken refuge in the murk of vague speculation. In the face of modern contempt for any but the most empirical knowledge, modern philosophy has committed itself to the building of castles in the air. It is dangerous to attempt to classify modern ethical theories; they are so intensely flavoured by the individual philosopher’s personal outlook and background that almost every man has a system of his own. But, roughly, we can split modern ethical theory into three classes: (a) the first trles to explain this finality of human activity in terms of the society to which man belongs, reducing ethics to positive law, to some form of public opinion, to sociology; (b) the second attempts the same task in terms of a necessity of the universe in which man moves, whether mechanical or animal, reducing ethics to mathematics, biology, or psychology; (c) the third, faced with the dilemma that reduced Aristotle’s magnificent reasoning to vague muttering, makes a god out of man and talks in frankly, or insidiously, subjectivistic terms, describing its ethics as individualistic, emotional or autonomous.
The human being, in whose name all this has been done, is an intensely individual and practical being. To explain patiently that his efforts, his sufferings, his triumphs, his courage, his loyalty, his failures have no objective significance for him personally, merely exasperates him If all his activity is only in the name of, and for the vague purposes of a very intangible, perhaps very distant, community perfection; or is only the ceaseless grinding of a giant machine, the necessary, irresistible urging of an animal, or the frail spinnings of his own mind, he will do one of two things: either he will stop all his effort, all his activity, or he will push the theorizing of philosophies into the room with the children’s toys and make his own decisions. And this latter is precisely what he has done. The position and influence of philosophy in our universities today are adequate testimony of philosophy’s failure in the field of ethical theory. The pursuit of wealth, of power, of pleasure, of food or drink, of physical perfection, or of scientific inquiry as the goal of human life, gives the other side of the picture, the failure of philosophy in the field of ethical practice.
Men and women of today are no more satisfied with tables than were the men and women of any other age. And if we are to get at the truth of human happiness, we cannot simply scramble human activity with every other form of action in the universe. To act for a goal of our choosing, and that means to attempt to attain happiness, is a uniquely human fight. Other things, other creatures, may be propelled towards a goal by the drive of physical necessity or of animal instinct, much as an arrow is shot towards a target by the impulse and aim of the archer. But only man can direct action towards a goal, for only man is in control of his actions. Control of action involves deliberate will, the ability to see the connection between the tools used and the Job to be done, between the means and the end. To envy the secluded happiness of a pampered lap dog is a waste of energy; he cannot be happy because he cannot know what it is all about. We might, indeed we do, whip a puppy for chewing up slippers, we hope that he will remember the whipping in connection with the slippers and avoid both; but we never think of absolving him from his sins.
Aristotle, and St. Thomas after him, laid the solid foundation for the investigation of human activity by tying its goal up with the order of reality. In his treatment of God, St. Thomas triumphantly vindicates both the reality and the sublime supremacy of the divinity by first showing its connection with the very first principles of being and thought. Here, in the very beginning of his investigation of the meaning of human life, we see him laying down the same metaphysical basis for his thought, bringing out clearly the connection between that goal of human activity and the first principles of reality.
The nature of this goal: It is uniquely human
Precisely because a human action, to be human at all, must be directed to some goal, to some good, it follows that there must be some goal that is the last, the ultimate explanation of all human activity. Just as all movement must have one supreme beginning if there is to be any movement at all (as we saw in the first volume in proving the existence of God), so all human movement must have one goal, one end, if there is to be any movement at all. In concrete terms, I buy a boat-ticket to Europe, either because the supreme goal of my life is the possession of such a ticket, or because I want that ticket for some other purpose, such as to go to Europe. Whatever it is I strive for, I want that thing either for itself, or as a step to getting something else. Of course no one starts to climb a flight of stairs devoid of the conviction that the stairs go somewhere, that they have some end; for after all the whole purpose of stairs is to get us to some other place. So, no human being starts a chain of action that is going nowhere; for the whole reason of acting at all is to get somewhere, to attain some object of our desire. This is the first argument used for the existence of God, but taken from the order of efficient cause and put to work in the order of final cause. To question its validity is to demand action and at the same time, in the same breath, make action impossible.
Each man has but one goal
A final, ultimate, supreme end, or goal, is necessarily solitary, unique. In simpler language, no man or woman can have two final goals at the same time, any more than a person can walk in two directions at the same time. Action is a majestic flight towards a landing field; and motion, swift or slow, crooked or straight, has only one final stopping place. The family likeness of all desirable things — goodness — is an unerring clue to their common origin and final resting place.
That goal is the source of all other desires
This ultimate, supreme goal is the giant power-house from which the current flows out to all other lesser goals. This is the head of the house of desirable things, from whom comes all the beauty and allure of the lesser members. These lesser ends are intermediaries, steps, which have value because of their connection with the supreme end; separated from it, they are as pathetically useless as a bridge torn from the banks of a river it was meant to span.
It is the same for all men.
In a very real, very objective sense, this supreme, ultimate good which draws forth all human activity is identical for all men. For on this one point are all men agreed; the purpose of their action is happiness. And it is precisely this supreme end which can fulfil that purpose. Actually, the ends of human activity are as multiple as the energies men put forth in search for happiness, as diverse as the mistakes men make in trying to determine just what that final, supreme good is. A man with a thick tongue and a headache is not a dependable judge of the tastiness of a breakfast; neither is a perverted will a dependable judge, of the object in which human happiness is to be found. Our next steps in the investigation of the essence of happiness will be the determination of the healthiness of the human appetite or will, the concrete discovery of just what particular object can confer happiness on man.
It is the end of all creatures, but differently
But first, and passingly, we might point out that the majestic force which has swept the universe on from its dim beginnings towards its final goal has made no exception in the case of man. He may be the very summit of nature, the lord of the world, but he is none the less a part of that natural order, subject to those same natural laws, and moving along with nature to the same supreme end. For it is quite true that the end of nature and the end of every man in nature is the same; as all motion must have had the one source, so it must have the one final resting place, the one goal. In this same sense, we might say that Admiral Byrd’s plane, his dog, and himself all reached the same goal, the South Pole, but certainly not in the same way. So with the creatures of our universe: some by merely existing, some by living, others by living and feeling, reach a little image of that final good; while men and angels speed on to the very core of that final good on the wings of knowledge and love.
Objective Happiness — determination of the beatifying object:
Three possible — and historical — mistakes
It is the peculiar genius of our race to be able to make mistakes. And that genius has been exhausted in the attempt to determine the object the possession of which will mean happiness for us. Men have placed their chips on every number that the universe offers in the gamble for happiness, and they have always been wrong. As a matter of fact only two classes of mistakes were possible: placing all chance for happiness in some external, particular good, or on some good within the nature of man himself, whether of body or of soul.
External goods: riches, honour, fame, power
Of the external seducers, riches have played a leading role, but their beauty has been an illusion produced by make-up and a spotlight. For the ultimate goal of man cannot exist for anything else; because it is ultimate it is desired for itself, it is never a step but always that to which steps lead. And riches, whether natural (such as food and drink) or artificial (such as wealth) are always steps, always for something else: the first for the sustaining of life; the second, even more obviously, for the purchase of natural goods.
The other external goods — honour, reputation, power — are just as easily disposed of as being claimants to the place of honour in man’s quest for happiness, no matter how many millions of men and women they have fooled. Natural and artificial riches, as instruments used by man for his ends, are servants, not the supremely desirable answer to his lifetime of longing. Honour and reputation are quite outside of the man himself and indeed often independent of his efforts; in any case they bring nothing intrinsically within the scope of a man’s own being. Honour is rather a witness to excellence than the constituent of happiness. Reputation (fame or glory) is another witness, not in us at all but in those who are honouring or praising us. These are frail things, often grossly erroneous, as we well know, at the mercy of every circumstance, and presupposing, not establishing, some claim to happiness. No, these are not the reason for man’s existence, the final goal of all his efforts.
If the supreme good to which every man dedicates his life could be conceived as capable of being utterly vicious, capable of being possessed and still leaving its possessor a fool, or even dragging a man down to the gutter, we might be forced to hesitate before the throne of power in determining the object which will give us happiness. Power is quite capable of all these things; but, by the same token, it is incapable of being the final answer to man’s quest for happiness.
Corporal good: the body itself, its pleasure
Since his happiness is not to be found in the universe in which he lives, man looks, quite logically, in the only other obvious place, within himself. But his body is no more helpful than was the whole scope of the universe. Its conservation, its health, its beauty, its sensitive acumen or vegetative prodigality, are no more the explanation of man’s activity than the conservation of a ship is the real purpose, the last end of a captain. The captain’s job is to make a port, to navigate his ship; everything else about that ship serves this master purpose. The body’s job is to make possible that activity we call human and all of its various and complex workings serve that same master purpose; ministering the material to the intelligence and will which the body serves.
The soul of man
To pass immediately to a consideration of the soul of man would be to treat with contempt the mistake about happiness most common in our own day. And no human mistake deserves contempt, if only because there is behind it a human heart which, until its last beat, is capable of that incredible courage that snatches victory from despair. What of sensual pleasure? Can a man lose himself here and find the complete happiness whose absence has been the driving force of all his days? Because there is so much of the animal in us, this is a mistake easy to make and difficult to remedy.
But mistake it is. For if human activity is distinctive, the goal at which it aims is no less distinctive, not at all a place where we must lie down with the brutes. As a matter of fact, a child does not have pleasure because it is enjoying ice-cream, but because it has ice-cream to enjoy. In other words, pleasure, delight, does not cause itself, but is caused by possession of some good, some end. No pleasure can make up happiness; rather it must always follow humbly in the wake of happiness, like a train-bearer following a bride.
Our attempt to determine the object which will bring man his happiness has thus far been entirely a consideration of facts. It has been no more than a pattern of the final or the ultimate, demanded by every human act, laid on the actual choices made by men. We have not been theorizing, not preaching, but simply comparing facts and rejecting obvious misfits. This strict adherence to facts brings us to the last possibility — the soul of man. It is the end of a great experiment; the last step which many have not bothered to make because they think the answer could not be other than the right one, the one sought. But honest facing of the facts cannot allow cowardice to creep in at this last stage. Let us put that pattern of finality, of supremacy in the order of things desirable over the soul and its possibilities — and the answer again is no! They do not match.
Indeed, if they did match, there would be no necessity for the bustle of human life; man would be happy from the very beginning. The very urge of man’s nature that he get out of himself, as well as the shrivelled, distorted result achieved by the introvert, are indications that man’s happiness does not lie within himself. Man, by his knowledge, can in a sense take all things into himself. He can become all things, and so he can desire all good. But he is not all things, he is not God. Neither he nor any creature is all good; and only that which can satisfy man’s desires can bring him happiness.
The true object in whose possession lies happiness is the Universal Good
The object of his pursuit of happiness is not outside man and in the universe; it is not within man, body or soul. But this does not mean that the whole affair is a grim joke of cosmic proportions. It is still real, still decidedly objective, this beatifying object — but it is above man and the universe. It is the answer to the human capacity to desire all goods and be satisfied with none; it is the final good that can leaves nothing to be desired; it is the absolutely universal good, outside and above man; outside and above the world, outside and above any good that bears the brand of limitation, of particularity.
Subjective or Formal Happiness — the attainment of the goal
A boy is not happy because an apple will bring him happiness; but because he has the apple in his possession. Neither is a man happy because the universal good will bring him happiness; but because he possesses that universal good. The attainment of the final goal, not its mere existence, marks the close of the pursuit of happiness. And that means no less than our having reached out and taken possession of the final good, bringing it into ourselves, making it our own. In this strictly formal sense, happiness, the final accomplishment of our human actions, is indeed within man.
Dr. Cabot of Harvard(The Meaning of Right and Wrong (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1936), p. 112 ff.) insists that man’s business in life is to grow. The dimly seen truth behind this statement is the same as that behind modern philosophers’ insistence on progress, advance, constant change, evolution without end. For to the naked eye it is apparent that action and perfection have a strange affinity. When I have absorbed all that an educational system can offer me in the way of knowledge, quite patently I have more of perfection than I had in my grammar-school days. A potential opera star has much less perfection of voice than the opera star who has realized her potentialities. It is quite true then that perfection is in exact proportion to actuality, as true of man as of plants, or indeed as of God.
Happiness possible — from a comparison of man’s faculties man’s goal
Consequently, this ultimate perfection of man, which is his complete happiness, is to be found in his consummate, most perfect act. In modern terms, substance exists for the sake of function; the ultimate in perfection of any substance, then, will be its most perfect function. More simply, the goal of life will be the realization of the best that is in man.
It is accomplished by an act of man
This truth is so obvious that, stated in common-place language, it seems almost insulting to intelligence. Everyone knows that man’s desires are satisfied only by his reaching out and getting what he lacks. Of course, since some object he now lacks will satisfy his desires, will bring him happiness, the thing for him to do is to reach out and get it — a feat that is accomplished by using the tools at our command, human actions.
Not by any of his inferior acts
Since we know what we are after — the universal good — we can immediately exclude all those operations that are not distinctively human, those sense operations common to all animals, whose goals are not universal but particular goals. This action must be a distinctively human action, i.e. an act of intellect or will. And again the process of exclusion is simple. I can desire a hat in a draughty room by a mere act of my will: I can enjoy the possession of that hat with my will. But if I ever expect to have that hat, I’ll have to get up and get it. As a universal good is not something to be had by reaching out my hand, or by calling a servant, the only possibility of its possession is by an act of my intellect. Can I make it? Why not? That same intellect can know all things, even the universal; and it is the universal good that I am after.
But let it be well understood that no substitutes will do. My will can be satisfied only when I possess that universal good, only when it is present within me by my knowledge of it. The lofty considerations of truth offered by philosophy or science will not do; not even the absorbed contemplation of angelic beauty will be tolerated patiently. It must be all or nothing: either the universal, all-embracing good, or the failure of the pursuit of happiness. The intellectual perfection that will help me to take more steps towards a goal is not sufficient; rather that is necessary which will mean no more steps.
But by the supreme act of man — intellectual vision
In plain words, I must see God. From the very beginning I have been driven by the desire to plumb the depths, to be unsatisfied with the superficial, to know the inner workings, the very essences of things. And having come upon the traces of God in nature, having learned of His existence, my nature will not be satisfied until I have seen the very essence of God.
So far Aristotle managed to trudge up the last hill in his pursuit of happiness. He saw man standing at the summit of the created universe; at the peak of man’s nature was the intellect; and the zenith of that intellect’s activity was the contemplation of truth. Here, he concluded, must lie the happiness of man: in the supreme act of his supreme faculty, in the perfect realization of his greatest potentiality.
Looking down from these heights, Aristotle was brought to earth with a crash. The men of that earth were real; the labours, interests, worries of their lives were decidedly real and left very little room for silent contemplation. Perhaps their offices were not as busy then as ours are today, but certainly their lives were. Moreover, how many of these men were capable of contemplation; and how long could the best of them keep it up? What an end to the quest of happiness! Such was the way Aristotle must have felt about the whole thing. His courage and devotion to facts were great enough to make him hold doggedly to the conclusions facts had forced upon him; but they were not great enough to make him take the last few steps that were possible to philosophy — to come out clearly with the last conclusions demanded by the facts. He chose to leave them vague.
Two common errors in regard to this formal happiness:
Cannot be had.
Would not give happiness if it were had.
Two obvious difficulties jumped at Aristotle — and at men ever since. For it seems evident that man cannot see God, and, even if he did, the act, like all his acts of contemplation, would endure for only a short time and could not give him happiness. To these objections St. Thomas had the infallible answers of divine faith. As a matter of fact, men do see God; and in their vision is their supreme happiness.(Ex Constitutions Benedict XII, “Benedictus Deus” H. Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbobrum (Freiburg, Germany: Herder & Co., ed.; 17, 1928), #530.) It is quite certain that the universal Good, the essence of God, cannot be crowded into a mental concept, nor be abstracted from sensible things; and yet that is the way our intellect works. Yes, the way it works naturally; the way it works at the present time, not because of its intelligence, but because of that crutch which intelligence must use and which we call reasoning. Man can be, and is, lifted above that lowest grade of intelligence; he is enabled to throw away the crutch and come to grips with divinity, not through an image or a concept, but in the way the divinity sees itself — through the immediate union of that supremely knowable essence to the intellect of man.
Supernatural? Of course it is supernatural. But that fact is no more of an affront to man’s self-sufficiency, to the efficacy of nature, than is the fact that man is born without protection and clothes but is given hands and reason to make up for the deficiency. Here he is given a free will by which he can co-operate with the supernatural help infallibly offered him and reach the happiness which hangs over his head. That the contemplation of divinity is unsatisfying in this life, is beyond all question; and if reason could not have discovered that fact, faith would broadcast it to the four winds.(Council of Vienna, condemned propositions of Beghards, 1,4,5. (Denzinger, #471,474,475).
But that dissatisfaction is in this life, seeing that divinity through a glass darkly and while we are sadly pressed by all the necessities of physical existence. Aristotle was right as far as he went; but it had not entered into the mind of man that God would insist on such a perfect image of Himself in the unfolding of the goal of human activity.
- Characteristics of formal happiness:
- Once gained it can never be lost.
- It cannot be had by natural power alone.
- It is strictly a personal accomplishment.
Of this ultimate goal, then, it is strictly true that it is supernatural, not to be attained by natural powers. Yet, paradoxically, it is strictly personal attainment. No other creature, neither man nor woman, nor the highest angel in heaven, can get it for us; nor will God force it upon us. We approach it step by step, by onr own human actions, working with the constant help of God; and the last and eternally enduring act by which we grasp God Himself is an act of our intellect, something that can no more be done for us than our thinking here and now can be done by someone else and still be ours. Once had, this supreme good which satisfies all our desires and puts an end to the quest of happiness cannot possibly slip from our fingers. On its part, the beatifying object cannot dry up and blow away, it cannot decrease or cease to be what it essentially is, the universal good; on our part, we cannot get tired of it, there is nothing else that can tempt us from it, that can seem to have something that is not contained in that ultimate goal. Otherwise it would not be the ultimate, the universal good. Just as now we must will everything under the guise and in the name of good, so then we must will everything in the name of the divine good — what attractiveness there is in other things, comes from this final end.
The perfection of happiness:
The three essentials or happiness: vision, comprehension, joy
Summing this up: a universally good object and its attainment by us is required for our complete happiness. In that attainment of the final goal there is involved the intellectual vision of the beatifying object; not merely a passing glance, but a tenacious grasp, an enduring comprehension of that object, and, finally, the eternally enduring joy (or rest) of our will, our appetite, in the accomplishment of our goal, in the possession of the all satisfying good.
All else that may be involved in our final happiness, however much it may contribute to the perfection of happiness, is secondary and relatively unimportant — a delicate touch perhaps, like a drop of perfume on the gown of a perfectly dressed woman, but adding nothing substantial.
Role of the body in happiness
In this way, the reunion of body and soul will add to the perfection of the happiness of man. After all, his body belongs to a man, the soul was made for union with that body, and without it, the soul is in a very real sense incomplete; but the addition of the body will not add to the essential joy and glory of the soul, rather the other way around. From the soul will come joy and glory to the body, much as at present a light heart gives buoyancy to our steps.
Role of external goods
This overflow from the soul to the body will carry that body far beyond the limits of natural perfection. Often the body is in command of the situation at present, as the protest of our knees at an overlong prayer will testify; but then, the body will be completely subservient to the soul as it was meant to be. It would seem difficult then to find a place in the perfection of happiness for external goods. At present they are ordained to the needs of physical life; even the most sublime contemplative needs food and clothes. But the question of clothes in heaven would seem to be still very much open to debate.
Role of friends
Friends, of course, there must be, in the same way that we must have our bodies. They are our other selves; something of ourselves would be missing without them. And this is true, even though the principal end of friendship — the opportunity to help, to sacrifice, to give to others — will no longer exist; that subtler, infinitely precious joy in the beauty, the triumph, the happiness of friends will give a splendidly human air to the courts of heaven.
Key to present or imperfect happiness — where and how happiness is to be found here and now
All of this may seem very far away, very unsatisfactory to men and women who are engaged in the actual pursuit of happiness — as always the tape at the end of a race seems infinitely distant from the starting line. We want happiness now. What can we do about it today? What, if any, is the possibility of some happiness in this life?
Activity and progress as a measure of happiness
All of the answers to questions that might be put about present happiness are contained in what we have already said. Perhaps one of the most important is that no perfect happiness is to be had this side of death. It is an important thing to know. What happiness is possible can be had only by going in the general direction of that final goal, for because of that goal every other good is desirable, every other good has what power it possesses to satisfy the longings of our hearts. And what happiness can be had will be had slowly, trudgingly, little by little, with many an imperfection, distraction, interruption mixed in. The degree of present happiness is in exact proportion to our approach to the final goal of life, as the heat we feel from a fire is in exact proportion to our proximity to the fire. In utterly simple language: happiness, even the imperfect happiness this life can offer, is a matter of approaching God. The closer we get to Him, the greater our share of this imperfect happiness; the farther away we get, the less happiness we can expect to garner. The words of the child’s catechism are an adequate summary of all we have said: man was made to know and to love God. The goal of life is the knowledge and love, the vision and enjoyment, of divinity; what happiness we get in this life will be through an imperfect knowledge or love of God, either in Himself, or in one of the mirrorings of divinity which we call creatures.
Answers to the puzzles: of activity, despair and boredom.
The rush of New York life is not necessarily an improvement on the sleepy quiet of a tiny Irish hamlet. Man gains his happiness by activity; but not by every activity, rather by activity that is going somewhere, going to the right place. There is such a thing as being so busy we have no time to live; having our heads so full of knowledge we have no chance to think; or our hearts so crowded that there is no place for love. Activity for activity’s sake, bustling for its own sake, may help us to forget, may prevent our thinking, but it will not bring us happiness. Progress is indeed a measure of happiness — if it is progress towards God. But progress in time saving devices, or labour-saving devices, in wealth, health, strength, beauty, athletic ability, business efficiency — all of these can easily be synchronizing with flight away from the ultimate goal of human life. At best they are helps; at times they make that true progress easier. There can be no question that a young man of today has made less real progress as a result of fourteen or eighteen years of intensive educational efforts than did the Apostles by rubbing elbows with Christ for three years. A man or woman who starts off in high expectations of grasping full happiness within the span of human life is headed straight for despair; for despair is the fruit of reaching for the impossible. The person today starting life with a denial of life’s goal, of the ultimate universal good, has no choice, eventually, but to choke out life or to attempt to choke out reason. The first is despair. The second produces a weariness from trying to pretend that the petty particularities of the universe can be the absorbing explanation of human activity, the goal of human life, the reward for the pursuit of happiness. This is boredom.