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Can Morality & Religion Lead to Happiness?

Can Morality & Religion Lead to Happiness?

The issue with the notion that one ought to do good as a result of doing good leads to happiness is that, nicely, what if it doesn’t?

All through human historical past, the best thinkers and theologians have every proposed a state of being which of their view was the very best state of private achievement one might obtain. For Plato, the grasp aim—the end-goal to which all different proximate objectives ought to lead—is “the good.” For Aristotle, it was “eudaemonia,” a time period which has no exact translation and which is considerably analogous to the fashionable time period “happiness” however connotes one thing extra all-embracing, akin to “human flourishing,” or “the good life.” For Moses Maimonides, it was “sh’leimut” (lit., “wholeness”), a state of cognitive achievement made potential by the liberty to philosophize—a state which people can solely attain when dwelling in free societies, for less than in polities which vigilantly safeguard liberty does one have the untrammeled freedom to philosophize. For Baruch Spinoza, the very best private achievement one can attain is “blessedness,” a state of holistic achievement additionally solely attainable in free societies. For Moses Mendelssohn, “felicity”—roughly analogous to Spinoza’s “blessedness”—was the central purpose of life. For Kant, the summum bonum is a lifetime of unimpeded constancy to the ethical regulation. However what about happiness?, we People, for whom the pursuit of happiness is enshrined as a quasi-constitutional proper and is prime to our nation’s ethos, may ask. The paradox of happiness is that it’s the factor in life that we most need however it’s additionally the toughest factor to get; in accordance to current polls, people in virtually each nation say that happiness is “what they want most in life,” however solely thirty-one % of People fee themselves as being “very happy.” In a tradition by which happiness is considered life’s central pursuit and the very best state of private achievement, it will appear to be essential—a minimum of for religionists—to know what at present’s theologians have to say concerning the topic, and to know whether or not faith may help people obtain this typically elusive objective. John J. Fitzgerald, a professor of Theology and Spiritual Research at St. John’s College, in his new guide The Seductiveness of Advantage: Abraham Joshua Heschel and John Paul II on Morality and Private Achievement, does simply that, taking us on a grand tour of the place of happiness within the considered two of probably the most consequential theologians of the 20 th century.

Religion, or no less than a number of the most necessary teachings of faith, has an integral position to play within the cultivation of happiness, in accordance to Dr. Fitzgerald; each Pope St. John Paul II and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that doing good—that’s, dwelling ethically, pursuing the sorts of virtuous ethical actions advocated by Christianity and Judaism, and following spiritual regulation—leads to will increase in happiness, which means, freedom, and private achievement. They don’t share the identical actual view on happiness, which barely complicates issues—however solely barely. Heschel understands happiness as “the certainty of being needed,” whereas John Paul II interprets it as the last word good: God Himself. Moreover, John Paul II stresses the connection between behaving ethically and attaining everlasting life, whereas Heschel is extra prepared to countenance the likelihood that dwelling a spiritual life may contain a measure of unhappiness and nervousness. Finally, although, each keep that dwelling an moral life is significant to attaining happiness.

Earlier than arriving at John Paul II’s and Heschel’s views of happiness, Dr. Fitzgerald walks us by way of what classical and medieval thinkers similar to Aristotle and Aquinas had to say about happiness—or about comparable phrases and ideas, as “happiness” in its trendy conception is most certainly not an idea that both would acknowledge. If Aquinas and Aristotle acknowledged a superb referred to as “happiness,” it was a way more goal notion for them than it’s for us in the present day: “it is much more common for people [today] to conceive of happiness in the subjective sense.”

Dr. Fitzgerald, in a useful interdisciplinary transfer, additionally compares and contrasts Heschel’s and John Paul II’s views on happiness with these of different key trendy thinkers on ethics—the Dalai Lama, Peter Singer, and the varsity of constructive psychology—and finds their opinions to be strikingly comparable. Constructive psychologists (psychologists who research human happiness) level to “kindness, gratitude, forgiveness, savoring pleasures,” and “exercising” as practices to interact in if one wishes happiness. Singer cites research that recommend that moral conduct leads to happiness: giving to charity will increase the probability of being “very happy” by forty-three %, and reduces the probability of feeling “hopeless” by sixty-eight %.” And the Dalai Lama maintains that dwelling morally fosters “genuine happiness and joy” and creates a “sense of purpose in life.” He additionally writes (in Ethics for the New Millennium) that faith “is an extremely effective instrument for establishing human happiness.”

Returning to “the rabbi and the pope,” Heschel and John Paul II distinguish themselves from the aforementioned figures and actions in specifying that the trail towards happiness and achievement lies not solely in dwelling ethically however in following God’s commandments. A godly life is conducive to happiness as a result of it takes the main target off of the “pure consumerism” of secular society, an ethos which may solely lead to “radical dissatisfaction” (in John Paul II’s phrases) due to the self-centered angle it engenders, and locations our concentrate on one thing Different-centered, one thing transcendent—the locus of “real meaning” in life.

What else will increase happiness? We all know that cash (past the quantity needed to meet one’s primary wants) doesn’t: “even people who win the lottery,” writes Dr. Fitzgerald, based mostly on Singer’s findings, “quickly adapt to their new circumstances and revert to their original level of happiness.” Neither does politics: a 2014 College of Chicago research revealed that being “very interested in politics” will increase the chance of being “not too happy” by roughly eight %. However intercourse does: a 2004 Scandinavian Journal of Economics research discovered that “increasing the frequency of intercourse from once a month to once a week generates the same amount of happiness as an additional $50,000 a year in income.” (Does this imply that Orthodox Jewish couples who chorus from intercourse through the spouse’s niddah [menstrual] week are the equal of $2.6 million per yr “poorer in happiness” than couples who don’t?) And so too does faith:

Analysis exhibits that there’s a correlation between spiritual dedication and happiness, notably if that dedication goes past mere perception. For example, [positive psychologist Sonja] Lyubomirsky explains, “47 percent of people who report attending religious services several times a week describe themselves as ‘very happy,’ versus 28 percent of those who attend less than once a month.” Furthermore, those that are spiritual have a tendency to be more healthy and cope higher with adversity than those that aren’t.

Furthermore, Martin Seligman, the founding father of the varsity of constructive psychology, noticed that “’the more fundamentalist the religion, the more optimistic are its adherents’; Orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Christians are much more optimistic and less ‘depressive’ than Reform Jews and Unitarians.” (Orthodox Jewish couples, then, are apparently in a position to make up their “sex happiness” deficit by way of their “religious happiness” surplus.) Moses Mendelssohn believed that perception in God and perception within the immortality of the soul have been useful in selling human flourishing, however psychologists have recognized dwelling religiously (adhering to faith’s commandments and restrictions, and being a part of spiritual communities)—as a extra essential think about selling happiness than merely believing religiously. That is so, believes psychologist Jonathan Haidt, as a result of “social constraints, bonds, and obligations”—traits of spiritual communities and non secular life—lead to extra which means and achievement in life, whereas “an ideology of extreme personal freedom”—the spirit of secular society—“can be dangerous because it encourages people to leave homes, jobs, cities, and marriages in search of personal and professional fulfillment, thereby breaking the relationships that were probably their best hope for such fulfillment.”

The issue with the notion that one ought to do good as a result of doing good leads to happiness is that, properly, what if it doesn’t? Dwelling in accordance to moral tips and doing good is an excellent factor, however doing good alone doesn’t lead to happiness. Happiness is by nature subjective, and it’s a uncommon, typically elusive objective, as a result of attaining it’s contingent upon a multiplicity of things: bodily well being, monetary well being, skilled satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, one’s relationships with one’s mother and father, the well-being of 1’s youngsters, having true pals (and having fun with the corporate of 1’s pals regularly), and even one thing so simple as getting sufficient sleep—how many people are grumpy on a specific day following a poor night time of sleep and happier the next day after having gotten the right quantity of relaxation? If solely considered one of these standards is unmet, our whole equilibrium might be thrown off and happiness will slip via our palms. Doing good—as essential as it’s—is simply one of many elements that lead to happiness. Making happiness completely contingent upon doing good, then, is a harmful factor, as a result of once we do good and nonetheless aren’t pleased after having anticipating that doing good is meant to make us completely satisfied, we could also be tempted to drop the whole virtuous enterprise of doing good altogether and give attention to extra egocentric objectives. Higher to do good with out anticipating that it ought to lead to happiness, as a result of giving charity or volunteering in a soup kitchen might not make us completely happy if we’re trapped in a job we dislike or caught in a quarrelsome marriage. Linking ethics to happiness definitely makes advantage extra seductive, nevertheless it might be a extremely problematic linkage whose advantages are outweighed by its losses.

The opposite query that have to be thought-about is whether or not happiness ought to certainly be the last word aim of life within the first place. Many—together with Dr. Fitzgerald and the Declaration of Independence of the USA—take it as a right that the pursuit of happiness is, and ought to be, the target of life. However that is an assumption that deserves to be questioned. Dr. Fitzgerald is right when he writes that “the Hebrew Bible promises rewards for following the commandments,” however the reward it guarantees is that one’s crops will develop; it doesn’t promise happiness. In accordance to the Bible, doing good is the aim; happiness is an ancillary profit which will or might not comply with from doing good, however receiving a reward from doing good shouldn’t be the rationale for appearing virtuously. Because the Talmudic sages say, “Be not like servants who serve the master on the condition of receiving a reward; rather, be like servants who serve the master without the condition of receiving a reward.” (Ethics of the Fathers 1:three) Maimonides was an ascetic (a minimum of as compared to at this time’s requirements) and positively didn’t think about happiness to be life’s final aim; neither did Hermann Cohen, who held that the Prophets—the biblical figures after whom we must be modeling our lives—“do not fall short of stoicism.” (Religion of Purpose, 134)

And from a (non-religious) philosophical perspective, Kant was no nice proponent of eudaemonism, whereas Nietzsche famously remarked that if you would like happiness, have religion; when you want fact, then search. Not everybody believes that happiness should essentially be the very best purpose of life. However for many who do, Dr. Fitzgerald’s temporary e-book is a wonderful place to begin if one is in search of substantive options on how to not solely pursue happiness however obtain it.

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