The Limits of Material Happiness: A Christian Reflection

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It has been said that happiness is a state of mind and a relative term. Our views on happiness are determined by our mental frames which are reflections of our own cultural orientation as members of a particular community. For Christians, happiness is not only limited to material happiness. The Christian concept of happiness goes beyond the material world and satisfaction of our sensual needs. In fact, the Church's teaching on the 7 deadly or cardinal sins includes gluttony. The word "gluttony" comes from the Latin word gula which is derived from gluttire which means "to gulp down or swallow". Gluttony is the inordinate, over-indulgence, and over-consumption of food, drink, or material things that provide much pleasure to the body.

pexels-photo-376464.jpeg

The Church does not discourage people to enjoy consumer goods that provide pleasure and material happiness to people. But consumption must be done in moderation. As embodied beings, we are entitled to the enjoyment of God's creation and human goods and services. But we must avoid inordinate attachment, i.e., our life is not tied up with material goods, we don't crave for things that are unnecessary in life and detrimental to our spiritual life with God.

pexels-photo-415380.jpeg

In Church teaching, happiness is, above, spiritual in nature. True happiness is spiritual joy of being in the state of grace and of knowing that one is following God's will. The happiness of parents of seeing their children praying or doing their duties in school is spiritual joy that last in their memories even after death. The consolation we experience when we pray to God is spiritual joy that can propel us to be with the divine in the afterlife. In other words, spiritual happiness is lasting, while material happiness is fleeting.

THE LIMITS OF MATERIAL JOY

Material happiness has limits. We may have achieved our personal goals. We may have acquired much wealth and fame, but the end of the day we still remain mortal and moving towards our own death. The great Steve Jobs may have reached the pinnacle of success in business and innovation for co-founding the tech giant Apple. But when he was stricken with cancer and was dying, he acknowledged what that lingers in people’s memory are not achievements, pleasures, and material success in life, but the loving memories of the things we care about that make our loved ones and other people happy. In other words, he is referring to our spiritual joys which are indeed lasting!

pexels-photo-723031.jpeg

Material happiness is like eating our favorite cuisine. After we have savored it and satisfied our craving, the sense of pleasure immediately vanishes. And it is only a matter of minutes that we crave again for another type to continue the pleasure of eating. Some Roman gluttons were said to intentional vomit the food they just ate in order to feel hungry again and to continue to feel the pleasure of tasting their sumptuous meal.

pexels-photo-358070.jpeg

The fleeting moment of material satisfaction can also be illustrated in buying a new luxury car. After using it a couple of days or would probably after a week, the excitement and pleasure of driving our dream car would immediately subside. And the desire of acquiring a new car which is better than the previous model would probably surface in our dreams. We enter into an endless cycle of craving and pleasure to satisfy our insatiable material desires. This also the case of people who find happiness in sex, drugs, and other forms of material pleasure. The material happiness is indeed very temporary.

family.jpg

Contrast this material pleasure with spiritual joy and happiness of helping and loving our loved one and people who are in need. Our loving memories of the good we do to others do not just fade away in our consciousness but can linger even up to our last breath. That’s why people capture memorable moments in selfies, groupies, posts, videos, digital photos and pictures to remind them of their treasured happy memories. This is not say that we should disregard our material desires and suppressed them altogether, but we have to be conscious of their limits and not be imprisoned by our inordinate attachment to material pleasures, thereby losing sight of our spiritual journey in life.

pexels-photo-356842.jpeg

Seeing life from the point of view of death has been recommended by great saints and thinkers. St. Ignatius of Loyola, for instance, recommended a meditation on death to make us more humble and see the limitations of our being or what the great philosopher Martin Heidegger calls a human person as a “being-towards-death”, and to feel our vulnerability on the face of death and remove the last vintages of pride within us.

Again, Steve Jobs is one of the most innovative and charismatic leader in the American business world and has been idolized by millions of his fans worldwide for his technological innovation and vision and for co-founding Apple and its innovative products. And yet, he has acknowledged the limits of success and accumulation of wealth. In the face of death, everything fades except our loving memories of people. In our dying bed we recall these memories and thank our God for giving us the spiritual grace of genuinely loving other people, especially our family and friends or whoever that touched our life deeply.

pexels-photo.jpeg

Praise God for reading this post. If you feel that this post can help others, press click share! I pray that God will always guide you in your daily activities. God bless!

Photo credit: Pexels.com free photos

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Chasing the Ultimate Meaning of Life & Happiness

       Do we really know where we are going to in life? The following lines of the song of Diana Ross entitled “Do You Know Where You’re Going To” are loaded with philosophical and sociological meanings that can challenge us to find the ultimate meaning and happiness of our life:

     “Do you know where you’re going to,

Do you like the things that life is showing you,

Where are you going to,’

Do you know?…”

Happiness Depends on Our Ultimate Life Goal

mom and baby

Photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We only live once in this world. As rational beings, we are creators of meaning. What makes our life meaningful would depend on our ultimate goal. The primary goal we envision for our life is what basically guides us in our daily living. Its achievement can ultimately make us happy. The quality of our happiness would fundamentally depend on this life goal. If our supreme purpose is to seek wealth, then our happiness would consist of gaining profit in our investments, increasing savings, achieving dominance in the market, creating new breakthroughs in business innovation, etc. If our ultimate purpose is to chase pleasure in food, sex, alcohol, or other forms of addictions, then our happiness will be enjoying and prolonging pleasure in our bodily senses. If our basic aim is to love God by serving others, then happiness would be spiritual consolation and the joy of serving God’s poor and underprivileged. If our aim is to change society according to our ideology or political beliefs, by fighting oppressive social structures and regimes, then our primary happiness would consist of personal joy of seeing that some of our reforms are realized in society. In short, our ultimate life goal can define the quality of our happiness.

Our view and enjoyment of happiness, however, can change through time. We are historical beings. Our ultimate life goal change as we continually search for the true meaning and value of life. That is why we hear conversion stories of people who have found their true meaning of life and change their original life goals.  St. Augustine of Hippo, for instance, was a true sinner and womanizer before his conversion to Catholicism. But after he found Christ in the Gospels as the true meaning of his life, his personal life radically changed, from being a pleasure seeker to being an avid servant of Christ and a great theologian of the Catholic Church. In his famous book, The Confessions, St. Augustine declared the basic orientation of his life: “My heart is restless until it rests in you, O Lord!”

Happiness as Cultural

People from various walks of life can have different goals and philosophies in life. Thus, one may inquire: Which ultimate goals in life are “superior” or more sublime than others?  Is serving God or humanity a superior goal and object of happiness in life than seeking pleasure, chasing wealth, fighting for social reforms or some other noble or religious purposes?

IMG_0376

Photo: “Sunset” by the author

Well, the unintended consequence of becoming human is to be born in a particular set of parents and community and to grow up in a particular culture. We neither choose where we must be born nor control how we should be brought up as a human being in society by our parents or guardians during our formative years i.e., from infanthood to early adolescence, which is said to be crucial for our personality formation. Social scientists believe that each culture is as good as the other. Thus, there is no “inferior” culture and cultural conception of what constitutes a meaningful life. Culture plays an important role in constituting one’s ultimate goal in life. If one is brought in a capitalist culture which puts more value on material prosperity rather than spiritual pursuit, he or she would more likely see the ultimate goal of his or her life in terms of material pursuit rather than in terms of service and growth in holiness. If one is born in a primitive society and culture where following tradition and communal goals supersedes personal ambitions, then the individual life goals would more likely reflect the collective goals. If one is born in a criminal sub-culture where people in the neighborhood are members of criminal syndicates and often talk of deviant techniques and criminal exploits, then expect the members of this neighborhood to pursue criminal careers and see prosperity through crime as the ultimate purpose in life. Unless there is external intervention or socialization on non-criminal or religious pursuits, individuals within this subculture could never be converted to other forms of lifestyle and non-criminal worldviews. Thus, it is crucial for individuals to think outside the box and explore other worldviews through education to go beyond the limitations of one’s sub-culture in understanding the ultimate purpose of life. Some people change their worldviews and goals in life by mere reading of books. St. Ignatius of Loyola, for example, was converted from a hedonist soldier to a spiritual mystic and founder of the Society of Jesus, the largest religious orders of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church, by accidentally reading the book of the saints while recuperating from a serious wound in a castle in Spain and asking himself: If the saints can do great things for Christ, why can’t I?

 

 

The Limits of Material Happiness: A Christian Reflection

Web Hosting

pexels-photo-761854.jpeg

It has been said that happiness is a state of mind and a relative term. Our views on happiness are determined by our mental frames which are reflections of our own cultural orientation as members of a particular community. For Christians, happiness is not only limited to material happiness. The Christian concept of happiness goes beyond the material world and satisfaction of our sensual needs. In fact, the Church's teaching on the 7 deadly or cardinal sins includes gluttony. The word "gluttony" comes from the Latin word gula which is derived from gluttire which means "to gulp down or swallow". Gluttony is the inordinate, over-indulgence, and over-consumption of food, drink, or material things that provide much pleasure to the body.

pexels-photo-376464.jpeg

The Church does not discourage people to enjoy consumer goods that provide pleasure and material happiness to people. But consumption must be done in moderation. As embodied beings, we are entitled to the enjoyment of God's creation and human goods and services. But we must avoid inordinate attachment, i.e., our life is not tied up with material goods, we don't crave for things that are unnecessary in life and detrimental to our spiritual life with God.

pexels-photo-415380.jpeg

In Church teaching, happiness is, above, spiritual in nature. True happiness is spiritual joy of being in the state of grace and of knowing that one is following God's will. The happiness of parents of seeing their children praying or doing their duties in school is spiritual joy that last in their memories even after death. The consolation we experience when we pray to God is spiritual joy that can propel us to be with the divine in the afterlife. In other words, spiritual happiness is lasting, while material happiness is fleeting.

THE LIMITS OF MATERIAL JOY

Material happiness has limits. We may have achieved our personal goals. We may have acquired much wealth and fame, but the end of the day we still remain mortal and moving towards our own death. The great Steve Jobs may have reached the pinnacle of success in business and innovation for co-founding the tech giant Apple. But when he was stricken with cancer and was dying, he acknowledged what that lingers in people’s memory are not achievements, pleasures, and material success in life, but the loving memories of the things we care about that make our loved ones and other people happy. In other words, he is referring to our spiritual joys which are indeed lasting!

pexels-photo-723031.jpeg

Material happiness is like eating our favorite cuisine. After we have savored it and satisfied our craving, the sense of pleasure immediately vanishes. And it is only a matter of minutes that we crave again for another type to continue the pleasure of eating. Some Roman gluttons were said to intentional vomit the food they just ate in order to feel hungry again and to continue to feel the pleasure of tasting their sumptuous meal.

pexels-photo-358070.jpeg

The fleeting moment of material satisfaction can also be illustrated in buying a new luxury car. After using it a couple of days or would probably after a week, the excitement and pleasure of driving our dream car would immediately subside. And the desire of acquiring a new car which is better than the previous model would probably surface in our dreams. We enter into an endless cycle of craving and pleasure to satisfy our insatiable material desires. This also the case of people who find happiness in sex, drugs, and other forms of material pleasure. The material happiness is indeed very temporary.

family.jpg

Contrast this material pleasure with spiritual joy and happiness of helping and loving our loved one and people who are in need. Our loving memories of the good we do to others do not just fade away in our consciousness but can linger even up to our last breath. That’s why people capture memorable moments in selfies, groupies, posts, videos, digital photos and pictures to remind them of their treasured happy memories. This is not say that we should disregard our material desires and suppressed them altogether, but we have to be conscious of their limits and not be imprisoned by our inordinate attachment to material pleasures, thereby losing sight of our spiritual journey in life.

pexels-photo-356842.jpeg

Seeing life from the point of view of death has been recommended by great saints and thinkers. St. Ignatius of Loyola, for instance, recommended a meditation on death to make us more humble and see the limitations of our being or what the great philosopher Martin Heidegger calls a human person as a “being-towards-death”, and to feel our vulnerability on the face of death and remove the last vintages of pride within us.

Again, Steve Jobs is one of the most innovative and charismatic leader in the American business world and has been idolized by millions of his fans worldwide for his technological innovation and vision and for co-founding Apple and its innovative products. And yet, he has acknowledged the limits of success and accumulation of wealth. In the face of death, everything fades except our loving memories of people. In our dying bed we recall these memories and thank our God for giving us the spiritual grace of genuinely loving other people, especially our family and friends or whoever that touched our life deeply.

pexels-photo.jpeg

Praise God for reading this post. If you feel that this post can help others, press click share! I pray that God will always guide you in your daily activities. God bless!

Photo credit: Pexels.com free photos

Web Hosting

Chasing the Ultimate Meaning of Life & Happiness

       Do we really know where we are going to in life? The following lines of the song of Diana Ross entitled “Do You Know Where You’re Going To” are loaded with philosophical and sociological meanings that can challenge us to find the ultimate meaning and happiness of our life:

     “Do you know where you’re going to,

Do you like the things that life is showing you,

Where are you going to,’

Do you know?…”

Happiness Depends on Our Ultimate Life Goal

mom and baby

Photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We only live once in this world. As rational beings, we are creators of meaning. What makes our life meaningful would depend on our ultimate goal. The primary goal we envision for our life is what basically guides us in our daily living. Its achievement can ultimately make us happy. The quality of our happiness would fundamentally depend on this life goal. If our supreme purpose is to seek wealth, then our happiness would consist of gaining profit in our investments, increasing savings, achieving dominance in the market, creating new breakthroughs in business innovation, etc. If our ultimate purpose is to chase pleasure in food, sex, alcohol, or other forms of addictions, then our happiness will be enjoying and prolonging pleasure in our bodily senses. If our basic aim is to love God by serving others, then happiness would be spiritual consolation and the joy of serving God’s poor and underprivileged. If our aim is to change society according to our ideology or political beliefs, by fighting oppressive social structures and regimes, then our primary happiness would consist of personal joy of seeing that some of our reforms are realized in society. In short, our ultimate life goal can define the quality of our happiness.

Our view and enjoyment of happiness, however, can change through time. We are historical beings. Our ultimate life goal change as we continually search for the true meaning and value of life. That is why we hear conversion stories of people who have found their true meaning of life and change their original life goals.  St. Augustine of Hippo, for instance, was a true sinner and womanizer before his conversion to Catholicism. But after he found Christ in the Gospels as the true meaning of his life, his personal life radically changed, from being a pleasure seeker to being an avid servant of Christ and a great theologian of the Catholic Church. In his famous book, The Confessions, St. Augustine declared the basic orientation of his life: “My heart is restless until it rests in you, O Lord!”

Happiness as Cultural

People from various walks of life can have different goals and philosophies in life. Thus, one may inquire: Which ultimate goals in life are “superior” or more sublime than others?  Is serving God or humanity a superior goal and object of happiness in life than seeking pleasure, chasing wealth, fighting for social reforms or some other noble or religious purposes?

IMG_0376

Photo: “Sunset” by the author

Well, the unintended consequence of becoming human is to be born in a particular set of parents and community and to grow up in a particular culture. We neither choose where we must be born nor control how we should be brought up as a human being in society by our parents or guardians during our formative years i.e., from infanthood to early adolescence, which is said to be crucial for our personality formation. Social scientists believe that each culture is as good as the other. Thus, there is no “inferior” culture and cultural conception of what constitutes a meaningful life. Culture plays an important role in constituting one’s ultimate goal in life. If one is brought in a capitalist culture which puts more value on material prosperity rather than spiritual pursuit, he or she would more likely see the ultimate goal of his or her life in terms of material pursuit rather than in terms of service and growth in holiness. If one is born in a primitive society and culture where following tradition and communal goals supersedes personal ambitions, then the individual life goals would more likely reflect the collective goals. If one is born in a criminal sub-culture where people in the neighborhood are members of criminal syndicates and often talk of deviant techniques and criminal exploits, then expect the members of this neighborhood to pursue criminal careers and see prosperity through crime as the ultimate purpose in life. Unless there is external intervention or socialization on non-criminal or religious pursuits, individuals within this subculture could never be converted to other forms of lifestyle and non-criminal worldviews. Thus, it is crucial for individuals to think outside the box and explore other worldviews through education to go beyond the limitations of one’s sub-culture in understanding the ultimate purpose of life. Some people change their worldviews and goals in life by mere reading of books. St. Ignatius of Loyola, for example, was converted from a hedonist soldier to a spiritual mystic and founder of the Society of Jesus, the largest religious orders of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church, by accidentally reading the book of the saints while recuperating from a serious wound in a castle in Spain and asking himself: If the saints can do great things for Christ, why can’t I?

 

What is the Relationship between the Material and the Spiritual?

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INTRODUCTION

Whether we believe it or not, life has two dimensions: the material and the spiritual, the real and the ideal.  Life is more than what we eat. That is why religions are born to give meaning to the great tragedies in life such as sickness, accidents, and death, as well as to the realization that there is more that meets the eye, that there is a reality “out there” beyond human experience.

There has always been an ongoing debate on the relationship of these two major dimensions of life. For Christians, the material life is not the ultimate goal in this world. As Christ said “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt.16:26).

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The Beatitudes also teach Christians that the poor in spirit are blessed by God, implying that a strict accumulation of wealth can be dangerous to their spiritual salvation. A true Christian must be detached from material wealth and attached to God spiritually.

But does this mean that Christians must be materially poor to be closer to God?

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THE CHRISTIAN MEANING OF DETACHMENT

The word “detachment” from material wealth does not mean material deprivation. Material detachment is an attitude in life that sees wealth as a means to an end rather than an end in itself as many materialists and hedonists believe. A person can detach from material things if his or her ultimate meaning or goal in life transcends the worldly concerns and anticipate the coming of  the afterlife.

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The German sociologist Max Weber made an interesting study on the connection between religion and capitalism. To him, what drives the Protestant capitalists (especially Calvinists) in Europe in expanding their businesses is not pleasure or mere accumulation of wealth for fame or honor in society, but spirituality: becoming wealthy is a sign of God’s blessing and being predestined to be saved by Him in the next life. The Calvinist Protestant theology that guides the spirituality of these capitalists views capital accumulation as means to an end. Thus, Protestant capitalists, Weber discovered, were frugal, determined to expand their business empires without fanfare and pride, since they saw the spiritual or theological meaning of becoming rich in material wealth as a sign of salvation.

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Some people who believe in the afterlife also understand that our mind and memories continue to exist after death.  Our mind is said to be a repository and recorder of our all experiences while we still live here on earth. To George Mead, our mind is a social product. What is registered there reflects our human experiences.

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The power of our mind is confirmed by the near-death stories of patients who briefly died but were able to revive, confirming that our minds are still be active while our bodies are in coma or being declared clinically dead for a short while. Thus, if our human mind is a recorder of memories and continues to exist after death, we can hypothesize that we can take a short glance and review our entire life after death. We can then take a panoramic view of the quality of our entire life after death through our memories and consider it as one big dream. In the Church teaching, the person who just died are not judged God by a few sinful acts. But by the overall orientation of his/her life: whether he or she primarily opts for good or evil.

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What brings more happiness to our consciousness during this review is probably not the wealth we have accumulated nor the fame and status we achieved in life as they are part of our past material life but the spiritual realities of joy and loving memories we have had with our loved ones, with people we sincerely helped, and with our God. We can then smile that we live our life as we like it to be or frown for not living a “good” life as our God wants it to be.

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Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, who has achieved the pinnacle of success in the business world allegedly mentioned during his dying moments that what matters most in life is not wealth which can turn a person a “twisted being” but matters unrelated to wealth and memories precipitated by love:

Indeed,  memories precipitated by love can make us smile and happy while we review our life script at the end of our lives:

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A scholar or scientist who spent hours of research and writing to sincerely help humanity advance in knowledge and solve some of life’s problems and saw people smiling because his/her works and findings cured their disease or helped them see the world closer to the truth.

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The joy of a mother seeing her baby smiling her back; the happiness of seeing the glowing face of a dying homeless person who silently say “thank you” in his/her last breath because we have given him/her  comfort and care; the consolation of a religious encountering his/her God in prayer.

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The inner joy a person who stood his/her ground against a tyrant regime for sake of the truth and justice; or  the inspiration of the countless unsung heroes who offered their lives for sake of their country, ideology, religion, and social reform.

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Indeed, what is essential is invisible to the eye. We can sometimes be totally influenced by the material realities of life and get hooked in material accumulation for honor and pride. We sometimes take for granted or sideline the spiritual side of life which can provide us  lasting happiness and spiritual joy. Surely, we are spiritually weak and sinful creatures of God. Only the blood of Christ on the cross and the grace of God can make us strong and prioritize the spiritual over the material!

Photo credit: Pexels.com free photos

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