“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” ~ Aristotle
But, oh, so elusive.
My search for happiness has taken me on quite a journey. It was, no doubt, the reason I sobered up as booze had become a source of great unhappiness.
I thought it was booze that kept me from being happy. So when I ran into a meeting on happiness I thought I’d get some answers.
Well — no such luck. I discovered happiness was just as elusive for the sober-minded as it was for the drunk. The meeting soon morphed into an echo chamber of unhappy stories:
- broken relationships
- open wounds
- regrets and resentments
Sobriety, in itself, did not bring happiness. Something more was needed, something like — a whole new understanding of the nature of happiness.
In 1988, when I was working on a book of meditations, Evening Prayers Morning Promises, I came upon an essay by Aristotle, The Ethics of Happiness.
Aristotle said that happiness is our great purpose in life, and it is through deciding on our purpose that we find happiness. Sounds kind of circular, doesn’t it?
According to Aristotle, it’s not so much what you do that matters but how you do your purpose once you’ve arrived at what it is.
When I was a kid we had an exceedingly good mailman. He was so dependable, so thoughtful, so cheerful.
Through rain, sleet and snow he was always on time, and had a good word and a smile for everyone. He did his chosen work exceedingly well, with great care and purpose, and was clearly a guy who knew happiness.
Pretty simple stuff.
Happiness is not the result of a game of chance — it’s the natural byproduct of a purpose-filled life.
“But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads? ~ Albert Camus
The tricky thing is you can go from a life of purpose to nothing in the blink of an eye. Tragedy strikes, spouses die, children leave, jobs disappear, despair sets in and life feels empty.
What’s more, there’s nothing we can do about it — it’s built into the very fabric of our existence.
- circumstances change
- we change
- people around us change
Therefore, what brings us happiness must change, meaning that from time to time we need to edit the purpose of our lives. The 23-year-old version of Pat was different from the 43-year-old version, and from the the 73-year-old version.
I’m blessed that sobriety got me back into the game of life, but it’s been for me to determine the outcome. Pat with a purpose = Happy Pat. I’m all too aware that without a purpose, in short order I’ll be sucking down alcohol to dull the pain of enduring a life I do not want.
Aristotle laments, “the mass of mankind are evidently quite slavish in their tastes, preferring a life suitable to beasts.”
For me, there’s no option. When life changes, I must go back to the drawing boards and edit my purpose. My life, literally my existence, depends upon it.
“Let us have done with vain regrets and longings for the days that never will be ours again. Our work lies in front, not behind us; and ‘Forward!’ is our motto. Let us not sit with folded hands, gazing upon the past as if it were the building: it is but the foundation. Let us not waste heart and life, thinking of what might have been, and forgetting the may-be that lies before us. Opportunities flit by while we sit regretting the chances we have lost, and the happiness that comes to us we heed not because of the happiness that is gone.” ~Jerome K. Jerome, On Memory.
Thirteen years ago I experienced an abrupt change in my life when my brother Steve died. Stricken with grief, and aware of my promise to him to stay connected to his sons, I wondered how to move forward. Remembering what I was taught, I got to work on a new purpose for my life and Just A Thought was born.
Just a thought…
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