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The Art Of Happiness

It is something, as a start in the world, to be convinced on good grounds that the Ordainer of our life on this planet intended joy as one of its chief products. That it means other things —service, sacrifice, education, development, probation, as well as a thousand aims beyond our ken we may well believe. But one of its governing designs is the joy of living. If there is proof of anything there is proof of that. It peeps out of every detail of the scheme. The material for enjoyment is so inwrought into the world's constitution that we cannot put a spade into the ground anywhere without turning it up. Men reach joy by the most diverse roads. By travel, by staying at home ; by working, by resting ; by strain of the muscle or strain of the mind ; by speech, by silence ; by solitude, by society ; by helping, by being helped ; by receiving, by giving. One could go, indeed, through almost every process of life and find a pleasure as its result. We enjoy as we eat and drink, as we open our eyes upon the world, as we swing our limbs in the walk down the road. If we ask why it is that a rose should ravish us with its perfume and feed our artistic sense with its beauty of form; that the fresh breeze should be a delight and not a pain to breathe ; that the vision of a countryside makes the heart leap within us there seems only one answer. The outer has been fitted to our inner with a direct view to these results. Human delight, and not human only but that of all living creatures, is one at least of the world's ultimate ends.

The happiness idea, while so deeply interfused into the constitution of nature, is seated even more deeply in the heart of man. It is touching, and at the same time most suggestive, to see how youth always and everywhere believes in it. An Amiel, when he is forty, may talk of hopes disappointed and of the future as a dreary prospect, but not even an Amiel can do that at twenty. That primal instinct for happi- ness, reborn in each generation, means much. It is not only a thirst but a promise. What is in humanity first as a desire comes out eventually as a result. Man believes in joy even when he is sorrowing. "Est quaedam flere voluptas" (There is a certain pleasure even in weeping), said a master of the science of human nature. Even when nursing their spleen people are, in a way, enjoying themselves. When Burton sings,

All my joys to this are folly,
Nought so sweet as melancholy,

he is simply indicating one of those strange involutions of the human spirit by which it tastes a happiness in what seems its opposite.

But the happiness material, as we have said, requires extracting, and for this there are some rules. One might call them simple were it not that such multitudes of clever people fail in applying them. It is indeed the cleverness, apart from wisdom, that has so often sophisticated man out of his joy. In nine cases out of ten where he is miserable it is because he has allowed his imagination to play tricks with him. It has, for one thing, darkened his world with false religions and malignant demons. Strange, that in a universe which smiled so kindly on him he could have imagined an Enthroned Cruelty as its author. The perversity seems the greater when we find ethnology digging up from all parts of the globe evidence of a primitive tradition which, amidst the most savage tribes, recognised the Creator as righteous and beneficent. Stranger still that this perverse rendering should have been permitted to distort even the Christian Gospel, and to make, even in our day, its life-scheme so forbidding that a divine of the last generation could suggest it as an improvement that the whole human race should die off at the age of four years ! When Athenagoras, the Greek Father, argued that the heathens' practice of self-torture to propitiate their divinities was evidence of the false origin of their religion, he could hardly have anticipated that Christianity itself was to produce a similar teaching, and on the largest scale. Yet so it is, and as a result men have to be retaught their inheritance; to learn over again their right to the natural human joys ; to cease to tremble as they sit at life's feast. They have not even yet full confidence that to really enjoy it is to please God and not to anger Him.

It is not enough, however, for happiness to have got rid of these spectres of the dark. The soul must in some positive directions be trained to enjoy. It must, for one thing, learn to be simple. The art of being happy is the art of discovering the depths that lie in the daily common things. Delight in the simple is the finest result of culture. The animal exhilaration which the child has in exercise and the fresh air and the sense of life becomes in the trained soul a so much deeper, subtler thing. It ravishes with a sense of something behind. One is intoxicated with the feeling which a modern mystic has expressed when he says, " I see, smell, taste, hear, feel that Everlasting Something to which we are allied, at once our Maker, our abode, our destiny, our very selves." This training is, we say, a training in simplicity. It indisposes us to rush after the extraordinary, the so-called magnificences of life. It leads us more and more in the way of the common, and to the deeper appreciation of what is there. It sets us longing not so much for the sensation of the millionaire as he shows his new palace, as for that of a Wordsworth, or a Ruskin, as, on a spring morning, they contemplate a greening tree. This delight has its guaranteed security in the fact that the materials for it the common things that, looked into, transform themselves into heavenly wonders and mysteries are here all around us, filling every inch of space and every moment of time. The man of simple mind, of purged eye and pure heart, walks daily wrapt in the consciousness of being in the midst of a universe divinely beautiful, and which is all his.

It is another facet of the same idea to say that the secret of the joy of living is the proper appreciation of what we actually possess. That kingdom of the unpossessed for which we so foolishly thirst is not half so good as this of what we have. A child sobs with grief over the toy that is broken, and is not comforted by the thought of all its glorious assets of youth, and health and coming years. It has not got the thought. We who are older are often hardly wiser. Coningsby, in Disraeli's novel, when bemoaning the loss of a fortune, is asked by his friend to remember that he has still left him the use of his limbs. It is an excellent suggestion, and to be taken in all seriousness. In our moments of spleen there is no better exercise than to reckon up as against our losses the things that remain. When we have fairly understood the worth of our personal gifts; what it means to be able to swing along in careless freedom of limb, to open clear eyes upon the world's beauty, to eat with appetite, to reason, to remember, to imagine, instead of being reduced to the privation of these things, we find we are rich where we thought ourselves poor. The worst is where we lightly value our wealth in love. Multitudes of us are fuming in a false sense of poverty when close at home are faithful hearts that, if taken from us, as they might be next week, would leave a void that not the wealth of Indies would fill. We are only poor by thinking ourselves so. It is, in fact, our perverse thinking that every day makes fools of us.

As our life studies proceed we discover the infinite complexities, the depths beneath deeps, that enter into the happiness of a growing soul. With increasing capacity it strikes ever grander chords, until its experiences are, as to the surface pleasures, what a Beethoven sonata is to a ditty of the music-hall. The Gospel account of Jesus stands out here as the typical, highest example. In the beginning was the exquisite joy of a pure heart in the presence of nature, when the flowers and the birds pro-claimed the goodness of the Father. At the end this soul, ever learning and growing, had reached a capacity such that the Cross, striking full upon it, evoked only a deeper harmony. The joy which, at the Supper, Jesus offered His disciples, was richer than that of the Sermon on the Mount. And this marvel has continued. Men have learned from Christ how to find joy in pain; how to be happy when suffering and dying. It was not vain boasting nor an unreal idealisation, but the statement of plain facts when Minutius Felix, speaking of the martyrs of his time, could say, " God's soldier is neither forsaken in suffering nor brought to an end by death. Boys and young women among us treat with contempt crosses and tortures, wild beasts and all the bugbears of punishment, with the inspired patience of suffering." In our own. day we read of Bushnell that " even his dying was play to him." Such histories are the supreme proof that, to the soul that learns, life at what seems its darkest and its worst, is realised as infinitely worth living. Courage, then, in the gloomy day. " If winter comes can spring be far behind ? "

Be our joy three parts pain,
Strive and hold cheap the strain,
Learn, nor account the pang; dare, never grudge the throe !

( Originally Published 1903 )

Ourselves And The Universe:
A Roomier Universe

The Divine Indifference

Truth's Spiritual Equivalents

The Inwardness Of Events

The Sins Of Saints

The World's Beauty

Of Face Architecture

Westward Of Fifty

The Art Of Happiness

The Mission Of Illusion

Read More Articles About: Ourselves And The Universe



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