Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Art of Happiness 4

Boy with ball, Badolato Beach
I like the rather clever ring of the following statement from Cutler and the Dalai Lama – it’s not clear from the text which of the two says it – it is surely better to want and appreciate what we have rather than literally have what we want.

Another internal source of happiness, closely linked with an inner feeling of contentment, is a sense of self-worth which is not just a work in progress engaged on by the individual, it is also very much strengthened and promoted by living within the human community.

A Common Confusion:

I agree with both our authors where they say that a common confusion is often to equate happiness with pleasure or vice versa. I remember many years ago reading somewhere that once when the great writer and dramatist Arthur Miller was asked what making love with Marilyn Monroe was like, he had answered that it was quite like eating ice-cream. I’ve always found this little story interesting and amusing both from a humour point of view as well as from a strangely philosophical one. I mean, how much ice-cream can any of us eat? How much sexual intercourse can any of us experience? Like all pleasures they are momentary ones that we really cannot hang onto. Like ice-cream that melts and vanishes on our tongue the high of sexual pleasure also vanishes. This seems to me to be the essence of any pleasure, viz., their fleeting and momentary nature. They simply cannot be caught. No wonder many of us end up addicts to one form of pleasure or another which by their very nature are uncatchable.

The highest happiness is, then, when one reaches the stage of Liberation, at which there is no more suffering and no more clinging to things or to people either out of fear or out of pleasure. Essentially, then, true happiness relates more to attitudes of mind and heart. Happiness that depends mainly on physical pleasure is as fleeting as the pleasure of melting ice cream on the tongue.

From Epicurus to Freud

One cannot read Freud without being impressed at the range and depth of his reading and learning. Not alone was it at home in the medical sciences of his day but also in art and literature and he was a consummate classicist. He would have read Epicurus who had based his system of ethics on the bold assertion that “pleasure is the beginning and end of the blessed life,” but also that this ancient Greek also acknowledged the importance of common sense and moderation. He had fully realised, possibly from observation, if not personal experience, that unbridled devotion to sensual pleasures could sometimes lead to pain instead. Many centuries later the great Sigmund Freud would aver that the fundamental motivating force for our entire human psychic apparatus is the wish to relieve the tension caused by unfulfilled instinctual drives. Another way of putting this rather complex statement is to say that our underlying motive is to seek pleasure.

We Begin by Learning

Daddy shows how, Badolato Beach, August, 2011
It is a truism, but nonetheless a powerful one, to state that schooling lasts as long as we at school while education is co-terminus with life. In this sense, the Dalai Lama argues that the first step in seeking happiness is learning. We first have to learn that negative emotions and behaviours are harmful to us and that positive emotions and behaviours are helpful. Not alone do such negative or positive emotions impact on the individual in question, but also they impact very heavily also on society at large.

The Principal of Causality

Because the Dalai Lama explains this principle so succinctly and clearly I’ll quote his words in full here:

In Buddhism, the principle of causality is accepted as a natural law. In dealing with reality, you have to take that law into account. So, for instance, in the case of everyday experiences, if there are certain types of events that you do not desire, then the best method of ensuring that that event does not take place is to make sure that the causal conditions that normally give rise to that event no longer arise. Similarly, if you want a particular event or experience to occur, then the logical thing is to do is to seek and accumulate the causes and conditions that give rise to it.
This is also the case with mental states and experiences. If you desire happiness, you should seek the causes that give rise to it, and if you don’t desire suffering, that what you should do is ensure that the causes and conditions that would give rise to it no longer arise. An appreciation of this causal principle is very important. (The Art Of Happiness, p. 26)

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