Updated: Nov 11
Happiness is a moral obligation.
First, let's define...
hap·pi·ness | \ ˈha-pē-nəs \
1 a: a state of well-being and contentment
b: a pleasurable or satisfying experience
mor·al | \ ˈmȯr-əl, ˈmär- \
1 a: of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior
b: expressing or teaching a conception of right behavior
c: conforming to a standard of right behavior
d: sanctioned by or operative on one's conscience or ethical judgment
e: capable of right and wrong action
ob·li·ga·tion | \ ˌä-blə-ˈgā-shən \
1 the action of obligating oneself to a course of action (as by a promise or vow)
For the members in a society to be able to live and work together successfully they must have binding and mutually shared moral obligations. These shared moral obligations, which distinguish right from wrong, are the basis for the laws we create that govern us.
An example of this is the shared moral value that human life has intrinsic worth, therefore killing is wrong. Another example of this is the shared moral value that stealing deprives another of their property and essence, therefore stealing is wrong.
These shared moral values, enshrined in our laws, create mutual obligations among all members of society to secure freedom and stability for all. At a societal level we rely on our government officials to enforce these laws to prevent immoral acts such as killing and stealing by deviants.
In much the same way that there are moral obligations to secure freedom and stability at a societal level, there are moral obligations at an individual level as well. Among these is the individual moral obligation to be happy.
Happiness can be personally construed to mean different things for different people. For that reason, and to concretize these ideas, happiness here means its Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition: a state of well-being and contentment as opposed to a state of never-ending ecstasy.
Happiness is a purposed mental disposition, not a fluctuating emotional state. Happiness is the product of right thoughts, not of right circumstances. That is not to say that when circumstances are right for us, we won’t by extension feel happy, but rather since in life the only constant is change, happiness rooted solely in circumstances will lead to perpetual and inevitable unhappiness.
It is a moral obligation because even despite extreme cases of individual introversion, everyone deals with somebody. And in those dealings, no matter how inconsequential or grand they may be, everyone has a choice: they can choose to aim to make things better or they can choose to make things worse. It may seem strange to reduce the result of interactions to these two categories, “better” or “worse”, yet our words truly do have a creative element that leaves our listeners or readers, in varying degrees, feeling more whole or fractured. Our purposed aim as well as the words we choose to use when we interact with one another will mostly determine the outcomes of our exchanges, whether good or bad.
Happiness isn’t genetically inherited, exchanged for, or arbitrarily rewarded to individuals. Happiness as a state of well-being and contentment is a direct result of every individual’s conscious decision to adopt a disposition to make things better irrespective of their circumstances. Happiness is a direct result of every individual’s internal dialogue with themselves. Happiness is created by good thoughts.
This is why I believe that in the epistle of Paul to the Philippians concerning thinking, he commands:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8, ESV
And on dwelling on the past:
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14, ESV
For individuals to remain in the present moment and to direct their thoughts toward what is “true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy” doesn’t mean denying life’s harsh realities or the call to stewardship on earth but rather it is a prescription to vanquish anxiety.
Proverbial wisdom teaches us that anxiety leads to depression, and depression is capable of breaking the human spirit:
“Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.” Proverbs 12:25, ESV
“A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.” Proverbs 13:13, ESV
The alternative to directing thoughts to what is positive is to direct them to what is negative, “false, dishonorable, unjust, impure, reprehensible, commonplace, and unworthy”. These thoughts not only will create and cultivate anxiety and depression but will cause an anxious and depressed individual to become resentful as well. An anxious, depressed, and resentful individual can do little to improve the parts of their life that need to and can be improved.
Contrary to mainstream psychology, I believe our thoughts are not solely at the mercy of chemicals, hormones, or our genetic makeup. The best pharmaceutical cocktail or life circumstances cannot undo the effects of thinking wrongly. I believe that only through practice and effort can we truly control the only aspect of our lives over which we have direct control.
Choosing happiness by directing the nature of our thoughts is fundamental to coexisting and cooperating with one another. We have a mutual obligation, despite what life brings us, to be happy. The quality of your life and those you interact with depend on it, choose wisely.
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