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Happiness: Illusion, Delusion, Conclusion

Monday 12 February 2018 at 9:21 pm.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for February 8, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            People who know me well are convinced, now that I am retired and doing free-lance writing and art, I am happier than they’ve ever known be to be before. To a large extent, I’m inclined to believe they are right, though “happiness” is very difficult to fully define or understand, and thus I hesitate to agree fully. What causes happiness for anybody?

            A philosopher named Vauvenargues once said, “There are men who are happy without knowing it.” Wouldn’t that be awful? To find out at the end of your life you had been happy all your life and didn’t know it! With the illusions and delusions so many people have about happiness, that is not an improbable concept.

            At the risk of being viewed as “that old man who lives in the past,” I find it necessary to say that, in today’s world, happiness appears to be more aggressively sought after and more rarely found/achieved than ever before in history. I’m convinced that people in contemporary society believe “things” and “events” bring you happiness. Things: A big home. Bay house. Fancy cars. Yacht. Expensive clothes. Jewelry. Gadgets, -- oh, yes, gadgets. In some cases, their home is a trophy case of “things” they never use and rarely look at.

            Events: Marriage. Parties. Football games. Deer hunting. Movies. Fishing trips. Job promotions. Casino time. Retreats. Winning awards. Vacations. In some cases, folks are booked up solid for the rest of the year and are sad because they can’t squeeze in anything else.

            Now, I’ll admit that some of those things and events do bring a certain amount of happiness, especially, say, a life-changing event like marriage. But not always, especially if the person looks at his new spouse and says, “OK, I married you, now make me happy!” I’m afraid that “things” and “events” can be illusions and delusions of happiness.

            Long ago, I discovered that “things” and “events” don’t bring happiness. As a young person, I thought getting a bachelor’s degree from college would bring me great happiness. It brought me a job as a teacher, which was hard, hard work. I thought buying my first car would also bring great happiness. It brought car payments, insurance payments, and gasoline bills. Many years later, I thought earning a doctor’s degree would bring me much happiness. It brought me a promotion and a lot more work with very little extra pay. Well, you get the idea, -- I learned about the illusions and delusions we have regarding happiness.

            So, did that mean there was no such thing as happiness? No, it meant I had wrong ideas about happiness. I had to learn the truth of what Mark Twain once said about happiness, “Happiness is a Swedish sunset – it is there for all, but most of us look the other way and lose it.”

            Twain’s words take me back to the good old days, growing up in Dime Box right after the Depression, when nobody had any money. The life code my parents lived by and encouraged us to live by, too, was essentially this: “Make do, or do without, a penny saved is a penny earned, and waste not, want not.” As long as we were under their roof, my brother and I lived by that philosophy, and I can’t begin to express how happy we were.

            We made everything out of anything. My daddy made furniture out of apple boxes and other scraps of wood. Our wine was made out of mustang grapes from the pasture. Our swimming pool, where we learned to swim, was a stock tank. We rarely bought apples, we had pear trees. My mother’s dresses were made out of empty flour sacks, and our “blankets” were pieces of cloth scraps sewn together. Our cows provided fertilizer for our garden and milk and butter for us. There was no TV, so we learned how to play intellectual games like Bridge and Skat (a German card game similar to, but more difficult than, Bridge). Homemade bread, homemade butter, and homemade cheese brought pleasure to our stomachs and smiles to our faces. Now those things were not illusions or delusions of happiness.

            Yet, theologians warn us not to confuse “happiness” with “joy,” that joy is a much higher state of being and it comes from a deep faith in Jesus Christ. That’s why the Apostle Paul could be imprisoned and undergo much physical suffering, and yet speak about the great joy in the Lord which he felt.  

            While we can find a little earthly “happiness,” the real “joy” is in the Lord. And that’s my conclusion!

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Ray Spitzenberger is a free-lance writer and artist who lives in East Bernard with his beautiful wife Peggy and spoiled cat Gatsby.

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