- A new conception of happiness.
- Philosophy of life.
Happiness is man’s eternal golden-hued dream; and search after it is his constant endeavor. In every age in human history, the rich and the poor, the high and the low, the king and the peasant have yearred for peace of mind and contentment that comes of it, a triumph over strife and agony that follow it. As Emerson says, “dream delivers us to dream and there is no end to illusion. Life is a train of moods like a string of beds and, as we pass through them, they prove to be many coloured lenses and each shows only what lies in its focus.” Every man has his own conception of happiness. The carpenter wants to be another Sheraton, the famous English carpenter of the 18th century who introduced a new style in furniture; the blacksmith dreams of expanding his little foundry into another Batala Engineering Company; the politician longs for the stature and proportions of another Roosevelt, controlling from across the seas the problems of war and peace and shạping the destiny of mankind. The end is the same, it is happiness or contentment. But the paths to happiness differ as widely as the men that follow them.
Man is essentially a possessive animal whether we agree with Darwin in tracing him back to the ape or, rejecting the Darwinian doctrine of the Ape-man, believe with the modern anthropologists, like Sir Arthur, Keith, in the Dawnman as the common ancestor of humanity, man has ever since the dawn of creation developed his acquisitive instincts. As savage in the pastoral stage, he fought widely for food and the opposite sex instincts. Exogamous or inter-tribal marriages, slavery and movements of tribes from one part of the world to another are well known sociological facts; they bear testimony in man’s innate desire for happiness through acquisition and expansion. Most men in the world believe that contentment or happiness lies in the expansion of power and influence in the external world. This ideal has found expression in the lives and careers of kings and heroes as well as the ordinary types of humanity. Invaders and conquerors like Attila the Hun and Timur the Tartar, Alexander the Great, Philip II of Spain and Charles XII of Sweden all followed the smash and grab policy of a Hitler or Mussolini and sought contentment in the satisfaction of lust for temporal power. A similar aspiration for happiness supposed to be arising out of world domination inflamed, as we all know, the mind of Napoleon Bonaparte, the first, dictator of modern European history, history records the tragic end of the great hero. As Professor Sloane of he University of Columbia in his monumental work life of Napoleon Bonaparte writes, “the world had been a harsh stepmother at whose knee he had neither learned the truth nor experienced kindness.”
Ordinary men and women also often make the mistake of thinking that happiness consists in external power and influence. In the library of English fiction, there are at least two or three novels in which the fallacy of this conception of happiness is thoroughly exposed. Thackeray in his three great novels, The Newcomes, Vanity Fair and Henery Esmond, paints three different characters through each of which he teaches the lesson that a life of sensation, full of lust for power, brings ruin instead of happiness. Clive Newcome in The Newcomes on whom his father Colonel Newcome builds his hopes is involved in a wretched marriage; he wastes his father’s fortune and his dreams of success as an artist fade away like soap-bubbles in the air. Becky Sharp, the heroine of Vanty Fair and Beatrix, the heroine of Henry Esmond are both fotune-hunters and careerists; in their effort to gain influence and power in socity, they both meet with tragic disappointment in the end. By contrast to these characters of fiction stands out Dr. Primrose, the hero of Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield, as a symbol of stoic fortitude; even when misfortunes overtake his family, and his erratic sons and daughters go aside from the path of morality, the old Vicar keeps his poise of mind and rises almost to sublime heights of self-possession.
In real life, we often come across men women who believe that happiness consists in the possession of wealth or material prosperity. But disease, pain and death cannot be controlled by mounting bank balances any more than the hills and rivers can be made to follow man’s bidding and move a few inches to the left or the right. If wealth, indeed, were the only source of happiness, then Gautama Buddha would not have left the palace and, with it, the luxuries of court and retired to the forest, lost in divine contemplation.
In the twentieth century, there has arisen a new conception of happiness, based on a fundamentally new outlook on life. This may be called the Russian conception of life and happiness; its political phase is known as Soviet republicanism while its philosophical aspect is best described as historical materialism. According to Russian historical materialism. It is matter or nature that has been controlling and will forever control the destiny of man and civilization throughout history. Therefore, happiness or contentment, as a modern Russian conceives it, lies in total and communal enjoyment of the world of nature and whatever conveniences and amenities it has to offer to man. As Lenin and his admirer, exponent and descendant Stalin argues, better food and clothing for all and equal opportunities for all sundry will bring eternal contentment to the human race, Abstract things of the spirit, according to this philosophy of life, simply do not exist; and the dogmas of religion are misleading. Every man can do what another man has done; therefore, let us all strive to make Nature or matter subserve the ends life, of man, yield him food and dress and all other, joys of and make him happy and contented. But this philosophy of life, however appealing to the average man and woman at the present day, gives poor consolation to the mother who loses the only son or to the child that loses his father or mother or both; the state cannot fill up the blanks in life caused by disease and death, in spite of the best care and solicitude it might bestow.
In the East as well as in the West-oftener in the East than in the West-there have arisen philosophers and thinkers who have both preached and practised the truth that it is the mind that rules matter This is also the central teaching of all the great religions of the world Islam, and Christianity. Hinduism and Buddhism. As Milton, the Puritan poet of England says in his Paradise Lost Book I.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of hell and hell of heaven.
Similar sentiments have been expressed by English poets and dramatists throughout the ages.
Vain, very vain, my wear search to find
That bliss which only centres in the mind.
Again, an Elizabethan poet sings;
My mind to me a kingdom is
such perfect joy therein I find.
In conclusion, let us point out one or two dangers that might threaten man’s pursuit of “that bliss which only centres in the mind.” Such a pursuit of contentment or happiness may often lead to a life of self-isolation and detachment of aesthetic self sufficiency or moral self-righteousness. In the Palace of Art. Tennyson warns us against these dangers. True culture, says Mathew Arnold is a study of perfection, a pursuit, of the “two noblest of things, sweetness and light.” A philosophy of life that believes in population, coal, electricity and machinery cannot bring peace of mind. Cardinal Newman also speaks in the same accents when he observes that the aim of liberal education is to teach one how to keep the mind well poised. If a person receives ‘culture in Arnold’s in sense of the term or ‘liberal education in Newmans’ sense of the phrase, he can possess a mind, free from the storms of passions of the hour. He can rise to the full stature of his intellectual faculties, moral sensibilities and spiritual · aspirations. He can fight shy of the excessive subjective idealism which is ultimately barren and reach out to a fuller life, illumined by the inner vision that admits the soul to the boundless glories of the spirit.