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The world is full of people who want to be happy, who are trying to be happy. So a good question will be, “How can I attain happiness?”
Look at happiness carefully. Maybe the first thing you will realize is that happiness is not a thing in itself. You cannot attain happiness by pursuing happiness. In some sense it is like an act of grace. Happiness is a side effect. It comes upon you.
There are forces within us that are not of our voluntary control and happiness is one of them. You cannot will yourself to happiness although you might be able to will yourself to be unhappy. There are preconditions that have to be met before happiness happens. These preconditions are quite mysterious. Because happiness is not something we can pursue directly, the pursuit of happiness does not bring happiness.
Happiness descends in the pursuit of a meaningful life. A meaningful life is a good life and pursuing a good life is not the same as pursuing happiness. How do you pursue a good life?
You can pursue the good life by adopting responsibility towards the suffering and malevolence in the world. This should be pursued primarily as an individual responsibility. I am not saying that organizations formed to tackle societal problems are not necessary, it is just that in the end, each of us suffer alone in some fundamental sense. We also have our own malevolence to contend with in some fundamental sense. You are capable of committing evil in no small way and you are primarily responsible for that, not the group or organization you belong, not the political party, not the government, not the economy.
The proper beginning of the right way to act is the proper beginning to moral behavior which is to take responsibility for your actions. By conducting yourself properly, morally, you can solve a good number of your personal problems. You having less problems is less problems in the world and less problems for others to contend with. So, it is not unreasonable to think that by solving your problems you simultaneously solve a societal problem.
You can start your journey towards the good life by conceptualizing the highest good you can conceptualize. Develop a vision of what might be which will be good. That vision has to be a personalized vision as well as a universalized vision. It has to be good for you, your family, and the society at the same time. After developing the vision, you work diligently to ensure that your actions maximizes the probability of making your vision a reality. This includes you accepting the knowledge of your ignorance and the necessity for acting and speaking in truth.
By acknowledging your ignorance you make yourself open to listening and learning. You thread the narrow path between chaos and order. To speak and act in truth it is necessary to imbibe Judeo-Christian ethic into your life. The reason is because when you think of biblical stories philosophically, metaphysically, or psychologically, you find them fundamental to your proper functioning as well as the proper functioning of the society. When you accept the knowledge of your ignorance and the necessity for acting and speaking in truth, you adopt responsibility. Meaning, not happiness, is found in the adoption of responsibility.
Doing what you believe to be right is duty. Responsibility is much more than duty. It is you acting in a manner that is in accordance with what you believe to be right and you doing what you do in a manner that simultaneously expands your ability to do it. This means that you do not make yourself comfortable within the confines of your present ethical beliefs. You have to stand on the edge of what you know and engage what you do not know. You encounter continually the consequences of your ignorance. By engaging the unknown, you expand your domain of knowledge and ability so that you are not only acting in an efficient manner but you are increasing the efficiency, productivity, and meaningfulness of what it is that you are engaged in. It is in doing this that true happiness descends upon you. You have some psychological evidence of this happiness, an indication from the deepest recesses of your psyche, biologically instantiated, that you are in the right place at the right time, not only doing what you should be doing but doing it in a manner that expands your capacity to do even better things in future. The feeling you experience then is not rational. It is a deep human instinct. It is something that is genuine, that exists within us, and that constitutes a proper guidance, if you do not pervert it with self-deception and deceit.
Happiness is the by-product of pursuing a meaningful life.
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