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On Happiness

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1/18/2016 2:44:19 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
According to my understanding*, it seems there are three levels of happiness we can pursue during our earthly life. I call these levels, from least to greatest - pleasure, virtue, and joy.

Pleasure is the satisfaction of our physical desires, such as our desires for food, drink, sleep, sex, comfort, etc. Humans and animals alike share these physical desires, and for this reason these desires are called carnal. Pleasure is the least of the three levels of happiness because, unlike virtue and joy, it often leads to selfishness and vice and the happiness pleasure provides is restricted to our earthly lives**.

Virtue is happiness attained through moral rightness. Living a life of virtue not only creates happiness for ourselves, but it also creates happiness for others. For example, even an evil man can benefit from the generosity and kindness of a virtuous man. Friendships, romantic relationships, families, and societies all benefit greatly from virtuous living. Examples of virtue include temperance, fortitude, hope, chastity, generosity, kindness, and understanding. The more virtues we attain and the more perfectly we attain them, the more happiness we receive from virtuous living.

Joy is happiness received through love of God and having a strong relationship with Him. The happiness joy provides through the hope of eternal union with God is so great that no suffering this world could ever cause can take joy away. When St. Lawrence was being slowly grilled to death at the order of the Prefect of Rome, it was joy that allowed him to exclaim, "Turn me over. I'm done on this side!" As St. Lawrence died he prayed for the conversion of Rome and for the spread of Catholicism to the whole world.

Unfortunately, the culture of the United States does not nurture the growth of virtue and joy very well. Our culture is becoming increasingly secular, especially among media. This makes it very difficult for American youth, especially those growing up in non-religious homes, to find God. The consequence of this is that many youth will never experience joy, the greatest and deepest happiness. Although the United States certainly values some virtues, other virtues such as temperance and chastity are becoming increasingly obsolete. However, the problem with living virtuously does not stem from an attack on certain virtues, but rather from a society that is hedonistic and materialistic. Pleasure is by no means a bad thing, but many people allow the pursuit of the pleasures that American society provides to entrap them in selfishness and vice***. The glorification of pleasure makes the pursuit of virtuous living more difficult. Even worse, since virtue and joy are interconnected, when it is difficult to attain virtue it is also difficult to attain joy****.

*There are many philosophers who have assigned levels to happiness. For example, Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, identifies four levels of happiness which he calls Laetus, Felix, Beatitudo, and Sublime Beatitudo. The levels of happiness that I am speaking about today are the product of my own understanding of happiness.

**Virtue and joy provide even greater happiness than pleasure, and they both prepare our hearts for God in Heaven. Pleasure on the other hand, does not prepare us for life with God, and thus the happiness it provides is bound merely to our earthly lives.

***I cannot think of any greater example of this than the American porn industry.

****One cannot simultaneously love God and also live a life of selfishness and vice. Thus, greater love for God can be attained by living a virtuous life.

The glorification of pleasure makes the pursuit
Nolite Timere