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Op-Ed

The Three Kinds of Happiness

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By EMN Updated: Oct 15, 2016 11:44 pm
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By Jochuhyulo Tsela

“Whatever I do, I want to be happy and I want you to be happy” ~ Angie

LET us hear from the mouth of King Solomon, known in the Bible as the wisest man who walked on the earth, “I know that there is nothing better than for men/women to be happy and do well while they live” (Ecclesiastes 3:12). To be happy is to feel or show a state of being satisfied, content, and cheerful. Happiness as I see it in our present context comes at least in three levels or kinds. The first kind, I call it as the sublime happiness. This is a kind of happiness reflecting eternity, having the element of permanency and it cannot be wiped away easily even if bad things happen in our life. The second kind of happiness is what I call the perceptual happiness. Perceptual happiness comes in relating to our ability to interpret positively being aware of things happening around us. And the third kind I shall call it the peripheral happiness, which is when something good happen to us from outside or by undertaking certain acts that make one happy. In this article, I will discuss these three kinds/levels of happiness and suggest that if they are understood correctly and taken in order, happiness as the wise Solomon said is indeed the best thing a person can have and must pursue in this life.
We shall begin with peripheral happiness, as it seems to be the optimal and first choice for many, then settles with the sublime happiness that I am persuaded is where the second and third kind of happiness derive their ultimate purpose and meaning.
The Peripheral Happiness: We all are in pursuit of happiness in one or the other way. Who wants to be sad and remain unhappy anyway? Peripheral happiness is related to, or is found at the edge or periphery of being content or cheerful. For example, a girl saw a beautiful flower and it makes her feel happy and content, or a guy travelled to a city he love the most which in effect makes him happy and satisfied. Yet, the state of happiness at this level is temporary and indeterminate. The moment such event or impression gets over, it is almost certain that the kind of happiness a person experienced at this level probably will disappear. The memories do remain in most cases, but they are neither determinate nor stable.
Peripheral happiness is momentary. For example, guys and girls in a party guzzling drink and dance generally seek and experience happiness of some kind. When a band of singers are cheered and praised by fans, such acts give a kind of happiness and satisfaction to the singers. Being under the influence of intoxicated substances or being praised and honored, a person can experience a kind of happiness and satisfaction, yet such happiness usually is momentary and within a short passing of time, it becomes a memory of the past if not disappears. Peripheral happiness does not grow alone with our existence. This is because peripheral happiness basically emanates outside of us by events and things that are not permanent. One cannot monitor it as one desires too.
Peripheral happiness does augment meaning to our existence and in many ways it can sort one’s life here on earth to feel content and fulfilling. Peripheral happiness can even aid progress in achieving one’s goal and desire, though certain occasions and acts that cause happiness at this level in no way add meaning or embolden progress in life. For instance, getting involved in debauchery, stealing public property (corruption) for personal gain and fortune that in turn add a kind of personal satisfaction, or taking intoxicated substances to stimulate artificial pleasure and feelings, etc., which might add happiness of some kind, yet such a state of happiness are indeterminate and temporary.
One might then ask why peripheral happiness seem for many people to be the optimal and the first pick? It seems to me that this is because of the naïve presentation and outlook of what happiness is in our contemporary society. Peripheral happiness is portrayed through powerful media like television, internet, social medias, and even in commercial as a definitive reality, thus leading people to believe it as the optimal choice. For example, in a commercial ad, a man wearing a Raymond royal blue suit driving a Mercedes car is portrayed as the complete man, cheerful, satisfied, and happy; this is then qualified by showing beautiful women hanging on the arms a man just because he is wearing a Raymond suit driving Mercedes. You might have noticed yourself that this is also one of the ways we are shown what happiness is, and how one can achieve happiness and satisfaction. Yet if the suit and car are what bring true happiness, all the poor and underprivileged people in the world, they are but to be pitied and doomed in this life, and behold, blessed is the millionaires and blessed are the Hollywood stars? Yet, this is never the case in the real world. Ad such as this can be deceitful. Similarly, I believe there are many things shown and publicized today in such a naïve way, thus sway people to choose and believe peripheral happiness to be an optimal and definitive.
I am not suggesting that peripheral happiness is unreal, or has unscrupulous end always, thus we are to stop pursuing it. I am only pointing it out that happiness at this level can be deceitful and sometimes detrimental. It is not the optimal and should not be the first choice. Peripheral happiness as mentioned earlier can augment meaning and contentment in one’s life too; however, it should have a proper base to find its meaningfulness.
The Perceptual Happiness: There are books written on how to be happy and stay content; there are courses available to learn about how to stay positive and cheerful. We shall call these approaches to happiness as the perceptual happiness. Perception as noted earlier has to do with relating to our ability to interpret or become aware of something through the senses. So how this level of perceptual happiness comes into play?
The book of Proverbs can help us see this answer, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7), in other words, we are what we think, or even perhaps we can become what we think. The book of Proverbs also exhorts us to be careful in how we think; because our life is shaped by our thoughts (c.f. Proverbs 4:23). The second kind of happiness, then comes with the way we see, perceive and interpret our surroundings or the things and phenomena we encounter in life.
It can be agreed that usually people who always think negative or the pessimists remain unhappy and sad often. People with unhealed traumatic experiences are no different. The perceptual happiness comes then with the way we think and perceive, thus happiness at this level, unlike peripheral happiness can be monitored to a certain extent.
The perceptual happiness is achievable and can be persisted by having a positive mindset and outlook. Unlike peripheral happiness, the experience of happiness at this level is achieved by positive thinking, outlook, etc., thus a person can remain at this level of happiness even if certain acts, events and phenomena happening outside that can take away such happiness otherwise. Perceptual happiness then is a hard work at first as it involves learning and practicing to stay positive and to be focused. Courage, hope, perseverance, optimism, etc., are some of the essential elements and abilities to achieve perceptual happiness.
An example of perceptual happiness can be seen in the ancient philosophy known as stoicism. The Stoic philosophers had a technique that a person can use to in order to override the adaptation process and a given phenomenon and recapture the contentment or happiness one seek. It is called negative visualization. The technique of visualization is simple, yet counterintuitive. Negative visualization is a technique in that one spends some minutes each day visualizing certain things that could go wrong in our day and life, then as a result, one remains happy and grateful for those things visualized did not happen yet in one’s life. For example, imagine that you have a cancer or made an accident yesterday while going to your work, then after sometime stop those negative visualizations and come back to your present moment where you are healthy and well. According to the Stoics, this form of thought or visualization will make oneself feel better and happy, as the imagination of things that could go wrong cause one to feel grateful for things that haven’t gone wrong now. In other words, if one visualized losing something, one will become grateful and happy that one still has those things.
However, I shall observe that Stoics technique isn’t better than what the Psalmist did to remain content, grateful, and happy. To think or visualize something bad that could happen to us, then reversing the situation so as to be grateful that such things did not happen yet will not take us any further than being happy for a moment. On the other hand, the Psalmist way of visualization/meditation is different. Instead of dwelling on something negative that did not happen in the past, the Psalmist look at the mighty hand of God, the wondrous work of God in the past, God’s love in the present, and God’s great promises for the future (which is holistic and real), as a result, the Psalmist is content, grateful and was happy (see Psalm 77, 103, 104).
A popular hymn “Count your blessing” written by Jonathan Oatman, Jr, illustrates one of the aspects of the Psalmist technique. Bill Gaultiere from the ministry of Soul Shepherding commented that this hymn, “The wonderful encouragement to “Count your blessings” is often misused. It does not mean to deny that you’re having problems. It does not mean to ignore your troubling emotions. It does not mean, “Cheer up and act like everything is fine.” That doesn’t work! It certainly doesn’t lead to lasting joy and peace. The hymn is actually encouraging us to acknowledge openly that we are “tempest-tossed” or “burdened with a load of care” and bring our concerns to God in prayer.” Thus, in counting the blessing, a person is not only being into worshiping and making supplications to God but acknowledging a hope that is certain, thus opens up doors of happiness, contentment in one’s life and situations.
Perceptual happiness then can remain within us even if things outside of us go wrong or are unfavorable sometimes. Perceptual happiness can be monitored within us by being hopeful, interpreting the events and phenomena positively. For example, looking things as happening under God’s knowledge, who cares for us and by meditating the wondrous works of God in the past, His great love in the present and His faithful promises for the future.
The Sublime Happiness: The sublime happiness unlike peripheral and perceptual happiness comes in with surrender. It has the element of divinity; happiness that reflects eternity and cannot be quenched easily by circumstances, perceptions, feelings, etc. Sublime happiness does not come simply because a person has wealth or social stand, it neither can be achieved by just being positive about what is happening around. The sublime happiness comes with a touch of the Divine love.
A story of a chief tax collector Zacchaeus and Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Luke well illustrates a touch of the Divine love. Zacchaeus being a chief tax collector probably had all the treasure he wanted. He held a high position as the chief of tax collectors and perhaps had a good relationship with the great Roman Empire (see Luke 19). With all his wealth and status, it is possibly true that Zacchaeus had peripheral and perceptual happiness too, yet it is certain that he was not content with his life; he was looking for something deeper and real. He came seeking Jesus, even to the extent of climbing a tree to see Jesus. Encountering and by the touched of Jesus’ love, Zacchaeus stood and said, “Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus then declared, “Today salvation has come to this house.” The sublime happiness comes when a person is touched by the Divine love and with a realization of God’s purpose for one’s existence.
The sublime happiness is a state when a person realizes that life is more than what one can have and achieve. Sublime happiness comes with surrendering one’s life to God and knowing the purpose of one’s existence; and with the Divine touch of love from above, thus the state of happiness is experienced within that reflects eternity.
If you have met a widow who has no children to look after her, nor has any wealth to enjoy the best food, yet you saw an inexpressible happiness in her, that’s a touch of the Divine love, the sublime happiness. If you have met a poor, illiterate couple living in a farm, yet they genuinely love each and are one of the happiest couples you have met, that is a touch of the Divine love, the sublime happiness. The sublime happiness thus cannot be easily quenched because it comes from God and is based on the hope that is certain. It is knowing and holding on to the promises, that no eye has seen, no ear has heard and no human mind has conceived, the things God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9). James Tour a renowned Christain scientist in one of his talks observed, “Happiness comes by obeying the things of God and that’s where the real satisfaction comes.” In other words, the state of sublime happiness can be experienced from believing and living out the Word of God, and that is where true contentment, cheerfulness, and satisfaction come into one’s life. Sublime happiness reflects eternity and has permanency element.
It is from the sublime happiness, the peripheral and perceptual happiness derive their ultimate meaning. C.S. Lewis once said, “God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself because it is not there, there is no such thing.” One might then ask Lewis, what about happiness we experience when certain good things happen to us or when one has wealth and status? What about a kind of happiness we experience in positively interpreting the events and phenomena or by practicing negative visualizing techniques? Was Lewis mistaken when he said there is no such thing as happiness apart from God? Lewis knew for sure the kind of happiness that one experiences because of certain good things, or by being able to positively see things around us. However, Lewis’s point is that in the non-existence of God, such happiness cannot be real nor can have ultimate purpose and meaning.
In the non-existence of God, happiness cannot be a true reality, for if the universe in which human beings exist are an accidental by-product of lifeless brute element popped out into existence and by random collisions of atoms or whatever element, it was, without any ultimate purpose and meaning, then happiness as we experience or are in pursuit has no ultimate purpose and meaning. It is just a pity delusion. In the non-existence of God, happiness, good feelings, emotions, or even our knowledge could just be an accidental by-product of a neuron firing in our brain without any ultimate purpose and meaning. Thus, Lewis’s point is true in that only with God, real happiness and peace can exist, for apart from Him there are no such things that could be real and have ultimate purpose and meaning.
Concluding remarks: Happiness, as I discussed in this article, comes in different levels or kinds. Peripheral happiness, being at the periphery of contentment and cheerfulness, which is generally experience because of the things happening to us from outside, events, finite existence, thus, is indeterminate, mostly temporary, and cannot be monitored as desired. There can be many aspects where this level of happiness can be experienced, thus the outcome can be diverse as well. Yet, peripheral happiness that draws meaning and based on sublime happiness can augment one’s existence with satisfaction. Perceptual happiness is a state of happiness one experienced by being able to look at things from within to the things happening without and within us. There are ways in which perceptual happiness is attained; yet, I have suggested in this article the ways of Psalmist’s meditations of God’s wondrous works in the past, His great love in the present, and His amazing promises for the future as the supreme one in contrast to the Stoic’s way, to remain content, cheerful, and also to reinstate happiness.
The main goal of this article is to show that the sublime happiness is the optimal and therefore must be the first pick instead of the peripheral happiness. I have discussed what sublime happiness is, how it comes into one’s life, and pointed out that the two other kinds of happiness can only draw their ultimate purpose and meaning only basing on the sublime happiness, which comes with surrender and by the Divine touch of love. Thus, sublime happiness stands at a core of our being, a gift from above. Billy Graham once observed that the pure in heart are the only ones who can know what it means to be supremely happy. This is the state of sublime happiness discussed in this article, which comes by surrendering one’s life to God and thus the Divine touch of His Love.
The orders then I suggest is, first the sublime happiness must be in pursuit and understand, which is and fills the core of our existence, then on the sublime happiness, perceptual and peripheral happiness must draw their meaning and purpose. If this order is taken, happiness by and in itself follows and whether phenomena of goodness or malevolent happen, happiness cannot be completely taken away from one’s life. Thus, happiness as the wise Solomon proclaimed is the best thing a person can have and must be in pursuit while he or she lives.

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By EMN Updated: Oct 15, 2016 11:44:37 pm