Saturday, August 25, 2012


What makes people happy?


People are made to love and be loved.  That's just the way it works.  If you are not loved, you feel the loss keenly.  But even more disastrous is not to love.  Not to be loved marks a painful wound, but one that can heal.  Not to love is a cancer that results in death.  The eternally lethal aspect of not being loved is that it may kill off your capacity to love.  

Much of society operates under the belief - hidden or overt - that leasing the new BMW 528i will make you happy.  Substitute food, an Apple iPhone, sex, cocaine, nice clothes, a new house, or alcohol, and you pretty much cover the landscape of public opinion about happiness.  At least, that is the impression you would get from either watching TV or reading a magazine.

You can substitute a pile of money for any or all of the stuff we crave, but money itself is nothing much.  It is just an equalizer that allows us maximum flexibility when satisfying our wants.  You can substitute power for all that stuff, too, but power is a kind of universal remote that allows us to dial up the satisfaction of our wants. 

For some, the relentless pursuit of money and power becomes divorced from the satisfaction of wants, and becomes a perverse "high" in itself, generating a toxic anodyne that momentarily dulls the terror of mortality lurking deep in their souls.

This is not to denigrate the lovely - an interesting adjective - feeling one gets from a new car, or from sex, or from a BMW.  It is just to say that none of these things has any lasting impact on our happiness.

Love is a very curious thing, in the general tumult of life.  If you understand love as it has been most deeply understood, it involves a surrender of self in favor of the genuine good of another.  The true love of a mother for her children always involves a willingness, at the deepest level, to ensure the genuine good of her children, even if it means sacrificing her own life.  The true love of a husband for his wife always involves the same thing.

We go painfully wrong in relationships when we think of love as something less than this.  We often think of marriage as a kind of "deal," involving a contract for mutual satisfaction.  Sadly, this model does not work.  It does not work because it is mistaken. 

Marriage, when practiced in earnest and correctly, does involve profound mutual satisfaction.  Yet at the same time it also involves profound self-sacrifice, a willingness to surrender one's own life for the sake of the other.  This willingness is not hinged on mutuality, or reciprocation.  It is an act of will and devotion that springs from an inward conviction and commitment to the truth of love itself.

The willingness to lay down one's life for the other is a litmus test for fully mature love.  Absent this characteristic, one is dealing with something imperfect and incomplete. 

This is one reason why monogamy is so necessary to fully mature married love, and why adultery is so highly toxic.  If I have a relationship with two women, and I sacrifice my life for one, the other one is left out in the cold, to put it bluntly.  The one for whom I have sacrificed my life may appreciate and benefit from the gift, but the other woman is left with nothing but a dead mate, and worse, one who died for another woman's benefit.  This is not heart-warming.

"Well sure, I love you, but if it comes to a choice between me and thee, that's a little unrealistic, don't you think?"  These are words that everyone fears to hear from their most intimate friends and loved ones.  The fear that this attitude is at the core of a relationship will chill it and eventually kill it.  People refrain from absolute intimacy, even with their sexual partners, for fear that they will discover or confirm that this is at the heart of the relationship.  They would prefer living in a superficial world where the truth is left unsaid, because the truth is so painful it is death itself.

I live in a society that panders to falsehood and mocks the truth of love.  My society grovels before its idols of sexual satisfaction, limitless greed, and ruthless power, but does everything it can to strangle love.  And every notch of the garrote, pulled tighter on the neck of love, is a notch closer to the abyss for the murderer as well as the victim.

If you would like to know more about love, there is a great book on the subject called the "Gospel of John," which is a short account and meditation on the life of Jesus Christ.  You may read it on-line, for free (it is in the public domain), or purchase it at Barnes & Noble for $1.99.  Most book-stores also carry the Gospel of John as part of a collection known as the "Bible," which I see is about $13 via Kindle and $17 in paperback. 

It is difficult to put down, once you've picked it up.  I highly recommend it.

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