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In the Pursuit of Happiness

How reason and contemplation can lead to a life of self-fulfillment

By Lloyd Lyssyj
On April 4, 2016

Have you ever done something that you knew was wrong or unreasonable, but you did it anyway? Maybe you pulled an all nighter right before an exam or passed on a bit of gossip about a friend. The majority of us know that actions like these are unreasonable and often harmful. However, because of our desire for pleasure, we often suppress our reason and choose what we know is not best for us.

When we act contrary to our reason, we create strife within ourselves that leads to pain, stress and a lack of peace. By actively examining our lives and by using reason in all circumstances, we can live more fulfilling lives and be more at peace with ourselves.  

What do I mean by reason? I believe that reason is akin to your conscious. Reason weighs the pros and cons of an action based on rational thought rather than emotions. Your reason would tell you that staying up late before an exam is a bad idea:  You will be tired; you will not perform as well on the test, etc. However, your desire for pleasure and fun pushes aside reason like a four-year-old pushes away his vegetables. How should we use reason then to make the right decision?

Well, I assert that one of the most important principles to understand is that there is a hierarchy of goods. Most would agree that having and caring for a family is a greater good than the good of enjoying a box of pizza. The good of a family is more intrinsic to what it means to be human than enjoying a pizza or satisfying hunger.

Take for example staying up all night before an exam to hang out with friends. A lesser good is being chosen over a greater good. The lesser good is staying up and having fun with friends while the greater good is doing well on your test. Staying up with your friends is fun, but it is only a temporary pleasure and can even be detrimental to your health if made into a habit. Going to sleep and preparing for your exam is the more reasonable choice because doing well in college usually leads one to live a more successful life and to find a good job. The happiness and pleasure that a good job will bring you in the future is much greater than the happiness and pleasure that staying up with friends will bring you now.

I admit that the specifics of this case are relative, and some may argue that I’m making a lot of assumptions. Good grades don’t always lead to good jobs; good jobs don’t always lead to happiness, etc. All I am saying is that if we bring more reason into our lives and decisions it will inevitably lead to more long-term happiness and fulfillment than if we just give in to our wants and desires or whatever seems pleasurable at the moment.

I propose that the best way to exercise our reason is to practice daily contemplation. Everyone should find some quiet time each day to examine their actions. This quiet time can be done during a daily walk, in the form of daily prayer or during your car drive home. Examine a particular action that you committed and ask yourself the following questions: What were the motivations behind my action? Was this the best decision for my health and happiness? Was it detrimental to me or another? Is this decision in line with my goals and aspirations? If we are honest about the answers to these questions we can begin to learn from our mistakes and become more reasonable people.

Photo by Joshua Earle

Happiness, in my opinion, does not consist in always having fun and enjoying pleasures. Pleasures are wonderful and good, but they are fickle and fleeting. We should view happiness as a sort of peace and order within the soul; it enjoys pleasures, but is always focused on doing good and being virtuous. Only through daily contemplation can we restore our reason to its rightful place as king over all our desires and gain peace and fulfillment of body and soul.

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