In Search of Happiness – Part 1

Human beings have been grappling with the concept of happiness since, well, the beginning. Once we could put a name to that feeling of contentment, of well-being, of knowing where our next meal was coming from and where we were going to sleep at night, we began to give some deeper thought to the subject.

Giving some deeper thought to the subject of happiness is what we are going to be doing for the next several days. During that time, we are going to lean on some ancient philosophy as well as modern interpretations and applications. The work of Dr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., referenced here, should prove to be insightful.

To get started, we want to take a look at how the ancient Greeks looked at happiness around 2400 years ago. Because the subject is so big (apparently, it took Plato 360 pages to define happiness), it needed to be broken down into more easily understandable pieces. So, in his work, Plato divided the subject into four levels or types, each with distinctive characteristics.

Level 1 can be characterized as “Instant Gratification.” See the ice cream. Eat the ice cream. This level maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain. Typically, happiness at this level is physical and very intense. And it owes no obligation to anyone or anything, except the self. The downside is that it is usually over quickly, and then one needs immediately to go searching for the next gratifying moment.

Level 2 is all tied up in ego. It’s “Competition,” but competition with everybody else. Someone stuck at this level is always trying to find someone they can be “better than.” Promotion of the self is of the utmost importance, and personal power is key. In every encounter, individuals at this level are comparing themselves against others, in order to feel superior. This constant comparison takes up a lot of time and energy. The downside here is we run the risk of finding people better than us, and then happiness disappears.

There are two more levels to go, and we will address them tomorrow. In the meantime, give yourself the opportunity to see some of these behaviors being played out in your world – friends, family, co-workers, etc. Make a mental note of reactions to these behaviors and how they affect your own sense of happiness.