"How Can I Find Happiness In Life?" That's one of the questions on a pamphlet I found on my door the other day. As you might suspect from the types of pamphlets left on your own doors (minus the ones for auto mechanic discounts, pizzas, and carpet cleaning), this one was offering an afterlife in which to bask in the happiness sun. Of course, living in San Diego makes the journey a bit easier on the heart and soul, if you will. By simply stepping out the door, one is immersed in a paradise-like environment; T-shirt weather, as they say. This is one of the things that makes me happy. =)
Ok, back to the piece of folded paper on my door...This particular pamphlet was sponsored by the Jehovah's Witnesses, though that revelation was hard to find (only one inconspicuous mention on the back for happiness-seekers to solicit more info), and at first I thought the writers were the "Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania." Turns out that "The Society" is part of the Witnesses too, specifically the group in charge of all their copyrighted propaganda.
Now I know that "propaganda" might have political connotations of Fascist Italy or Communist Russia, or Fox News Network (or CNN or MSNBC or, hell, any statist rag or broadcast out there). But if there's one thing that religions are adept at, it's selling a particular brand of everlasting snake oil, an elixir for one's emotional discomforts. By all intents and purposes, "The Society" is churning out some very cultish stuff.
My benchmark for determining cultish stuff is the extent to which the group's ideas contradict the laws of reality and logical reasoning, and whether they ask you to join the group in exchange for abandoning your curious, reasoning mind. Independent and objective thinking is not something that cults—whether they be workers in government or "The Society"—are friendly to. Collectivism and mystical thinking are their strong suits. Needless to say, this doesn't lead to happiness, because without a critically thinking mind, only a shell is left, a false-self. Fortunately, the human capacity for critical thinking is expressed by every child who is allowed to ask a question and express an idea or feeling. Kids are question-askers par excellence, at least until disfunctional adults start to wrap their minds in flags and bible covers.
I'm sure by now you're wondering what "The Society" had to say about the above question on finding happiness. Verbatim:
WHY THE QUESTION ARISES: Many people believe that money, fame, or beauty will make them happy. Hence, they pursue such things—only to find that happiness eludes them.
WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES: Jesus identified the key to happiness when he said: "Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need." (Matthew 5:3) True happiness can be found only if we take steps to fill our greatest need—our hunger for spiritual truth about God and his purpose for us. That truth is found in the Bible. Knowing that truth can help us to discern what is really important and what is not. Allowing Bible truth to guide our decisions and actions leads to a more meaningful life.—Luke 11:28
See also Proverbs 3:5, 6, 13-18 and 1 Timothy 6:9, 10.
So, "money, fame, or beauty" are not the keys to happiness. Well, money is a concretized form of human intelligence, like any other commodity that can be traded to further human life and well-being. As the saying goes, money isn't everything, but try to buy something without it. It's important to understand the root of money and especially the values and virtues of those who use it as a medium of exchange. Rather than attacking what allows human flourishing (incidentally the wealthiest economies tend to be the freest), we should question the values and virtues of people who see money as the end-all-be-all, and who lack the self-esteem to deal with others respectfully in commerce. However, fame is pure social metaphysics, in which other people's assessments become one's reality, rather than objective reality; this is living outside oneself, as the destructive lifestyles of various rock stars and movie stars can attest. And conventional (collective) notions of beauty need to be understood and questioned as well. Beauty is an esthetic judgment that relies both on a standard and a context. Traditional religions' views on such things are based mainly on materialism, in which conceptual thought is abandoned. This leads us to the next set of contradictions...
"Our hunger for spiritual truth about God and his purpose for us" begs the question. What's spiritual truth and who/what/when/where/how is God? Methinks the Bible is a bit too biased a source for finding objective answers to such profound questions. Those "scholarly" scribes (sheepherders?) had their fair share of metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical axes to grind. While the truth shall set us free, "Bible truth" leads us to more bondage and basically an anti-conceptual mentality. Real truth is based on the facts of reality and logical identification of (empirically based) concepts. Btw, if it's an in-depth analysis of all things religious that you seek, The Bible Geek is one man who's definitely done his homework on the subject.
So, what does all this have to do with happiness? Again, each of us needs to use our minds in an independent, logical fashion, unencumbered by unquestioned dogma or commandments from "authorities," if we are to develop self-confidence and self-respect—i.e., self-esteem, which is tied to happiness. The nature of religion pretty much precludes this process, because it's opposed to the process of non-contradictory identification. Moreover, a meaningful life entails understanding logically and factually the nature of one's mortality. After we've done this philosophical heavy lifting—which, btw, is accomplished naturally by children whose sincere question-asking hasn't been thwarted by adults—we can much more easily recognize what's in service to our lives and well-being, versus what leads us down the road of sacrifice and unhappiness. And, for sure, Jesus' was all about the sacrifice, an ethical concept that's fraught with difficulties, like ethics itself.
Let us get to that spiritual (mental) gym and start doing some lifting. After all, the weights at 24 Hour Fitness can only take us so far to full health.