If you want to be happy, stop trying to be happy.
In contemporary culture, we understand happiness very differently than in ages past. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts at Ethics for Everyone, (here and here), happiness in its classical sense meant something different than it does to our modern ears. A quick survey of dictionary definitions of happiness turns up the following contemporary understanding of happiness:
“pleasure, joy, delight…an active or passive state of pleasure or pleasurable satisfaction” (Dictionary.com)
“a pleasurable or satisfying experience” (Merriam-Webster.com)
“feeling, showing or causing pleasure or satisfaction” (Cambridge Dictionaries Online)
“It may be seriously questioned whether the advent of modern communications media has much enhanced our understanding of the world in which we live.”
This statement does not come from a contemporary critic of blogs, texting, and social media. Rather, it is from the 1940 classic by Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book. We may know more about the world today—including mere facts and trivia—but we don’t think very deeply about much of this, often accepting pre-packaged opinions rather than working through ideas ourselves or in discussion with a few other people.
I am not a fundamentalist, but I am a Christian. I’m also a philosophy professor at a state university. And I agree with David Niose that anti-intellectualism is a very deep problem in America. (I also agree with Ravi Chandra, as I believe that another major issue is the rampant self-centeredness present in our culture.) Here I’d like to give my perspective on issues related to anti-intellectualism. It is connected to some fundamentalisms, but the problem is much deeper and more widespread in our society.
We may read more now than in the past. We read a lot of blog posts, tweets, and the like. We may read a few books, too. But we don’t read enough complex books, and we don’t read well.
The Dude abides. I wouldn’t suggest a life of bowling and White Russians, but there is something we can take from The Dude. We should question the culture of activity, where work seeps into and sometimes takes over the rest of life, where actual leisure time is non-existent. We focus on getting things done rather than who we are and who we are becoming.
There is an entire industry dedicated to “getting things done.” I’ve found some very useful ideas and practical tips that have made me more efficient, productive, and better at my work.
However, Josef Pieper asks in Leisure: The Basis of Culture,
“Is there a sphere of human activity, one might even say of human existence, that does not need to be justified by inclusion in a five-year plan and its technical organization? Is there such a thing, or not? (p. 38)”
I became a professional philosopher because I was convinced that ideas matter. I’m more convinced of that now. I’ve always approached any text, thinker, or idea in the hope that I could find some truth or wisdom. I believe that we should welcome truth and wisdom, wherever they can be found.
When I first launched this website and blog back in 2015, my plan was to focus primarily on ideas from a particular Christian philosophical perspective. However, many people associate the term “Christian” with much that is very un-Christian these days. Yet there are many ideas rooted in the historic Christian faith that can be very useful not only for those who are Christians, but others as well. This is true whether one has different religious commitments, or none at all.
There are ideas to be found in many religious and philosophical traditions that are helpful for our growth in moral and intellectual virtue as well as our pursuit of wisdom and happiness, and there is a tradition within Christianity of appropriating such ideas (for instance, see Acts 17 where Paul quotes Cretan philosophers Epimenides and Aratus).
With this in mind, I’m expanding the scope of this blog to include an exploration of such ideas in ways that people will hopefully find to be both interesting and helpful, regardless of your particular religious or philosophical perspective. That’s my hope, at least. If you’re a Christian and read this blog for particularly Christian ideas concerning life and the formation of character, I’ll still write about such themes. But I think you’ll find ideas from other traditions helpful and interesting. They will also help you find common ground with others to have conversations of substance. Here are a few posts to check out:
In that spirit, I welcome any comments and suggestions my readers might have. Feel free to send ideas for topics, thinkers, issues, or any other feedback my way. Let’s try to make some progress in our pursuit of truth, wisdom, and genuine happiness, together.