Friday, 19 November 2010

Happiness at all costs?

"When I worked as a headmaster, prospective parents would frequently say to me that above all they wanted their children to be happy. While this is a very reasonable aspiration for parents, part of me wanted to challenge them and say: what do you mean by happy? Do you really want your children to 'feel good' above all else, even if they have to compromise their integrity in order to carry on 'feeling good?' Why do you not want your children to be above all decent, just and honest? I suspect that for some parents, 'happy' does indeed involve virtue, but the atmosphere around the word nowadays means that this cannot be taken for granted. It seems some people are quite prepared to be vicious rather than virtuous in order to be what they call happy.

Recently, some schools have attempted what they call 'happiness education'; yet this easily becomes health education, where health has now been expanded to include mental health. To offer mental health education in schools is a welcome development, but health should not be confused with happiness. To teach happiness does not simply mean offering healthy lifestyle advice; it means teaching that goodness and virtue are integral parts of happiness.

The Christian monastic tradition, like all classic religious and monastic traditions, sees a profound link between happiness and virtue. While there is nothing morally wrong with feeling good, it is not in itself a moral guide to right and wrong. To find such a guide, we need a wider framework. The commonly used principle 'avoid harm to others' seems to be that guide for many people, but it has the unforeseen result of allowing people to neglect the interior, spiritual world from which all our actions spring....If we are to find happiness, we need to go beyond the world of simply feeling good and avoiding harm to enter the world of knowing good and doing good."
Abbot Christopher Jamison: Finding Happiness

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