Today, we continue our examination of happiness. Yesterday, we got an overview of the Greek philosopher Plato’s first two levels of happiness – Instant Gratification and Competition. Now, let’s take a look at the final two levels.
The third level of happiness is one of “Contribution” where we want to use our time and talents to help and support others. It’s working beyond the self, and focused on the benefit of “the other” as opposed to ourselves alone. We derive joy from being a part of an effort aimed at improving the human condition. This type of contribution answers our need to find meaning and purpose in who we are and what we do.
A prime example of this can be found in Dr. Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII. He wrote that those men and women who were best able to survive the horrific physical and psychological deprivation were determined to stay alive for some reason beyond themselves. It could have been family, work they wanted to continue, or supporting fellow prisoners – but it was a purpose beyond the self that kept them going.
And finally, the fourth level is the seeking of “Ultimate Perfection.” We seek perfect love, perfect beauty, ultimate knowledge and wisdom. This is perhaps the most difficult level to achieve, because perfection in anything is fleeting, if it is possible at all. Sometimes, all we can shoot for is excellence in whatever we are doing. For “perfection,” we may only experience moments, but those moments lift us up and allow us to see the ultimate – however we individually define “ultimate.”
Realistically, at any given moment during the day, we experience each of these levels. In fact, typically, we are a combination depending upon the situation at hand. And that’s not a bad thing. What is important is to understand how and why we choose to exist in these four levels, and the implications and ramifications – to ourselves and others – of those choices.