happiness and the meaning of life

Love corinthians bible

Happiness is the supreme goal of human beings. Or should be... The meaning of life depends on happiness. As George Santayana said:

Happiness is the only sanction of life; where happiness fails, existence remains a mad and lamentable experiment.

Happiness - and the meaning of life - can be found in wisdom, in God, holiness and religion, and also in art, love and friendship. But since pain and cruelty are always around us, how lasting can happiness be?

The purpose of life is to be happy

All beings are equal in both their desire for happiness and their right to obtain it.

What is the purpose of life? I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want to suffer. From the very core of our being we simply desire contentment.

I don't know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars, and planets, has a deeper meaning, but at the very least it is clear that we humans who live on this Earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves. 
Dalai Lama, Tibetan spiritual and political leader, Voices from the Heart 

Love and Friendship as the source of happiness and meaning

Without love and friendship there is no happiness.

Only the soul that loves is happy.
Johann Goethe, 1749-1831, German writer, Egmont

There is one only happiness in life: to love and be loved.
George Sand, 1804-1876, French writer, Letter to Lina Calamatta

Friendship dances around the world, proclaiming to us all to rouse ourselves to give thanks.
Epicurus, 341-270 a. C., Greek philosopher, Vatican Sayings

In Tibet we say that many illnesses can be cured by the one medicine of love and compassion. These qualities are the ultimate source of human happiness, and our need for them lies at the very core of our being.
Dalai Lama, Tibetan spiritual and political leader, Voices from the Heart 

Even if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and have all faith, so as to remove mountains, if I don't have love, I’ll be not happy.
Bible, Corinthians

See also:
Life and Love 
Life and friendship

meaning of life, Happiness and Wisdom

Happiness is deeply linked to our wisdom, and our philosophies of life. The Dalai Lama, and his philosophy of life, stresses it.

The key to a happier world is the growth of compassion. We do not need to become religious, nor do we need to believe in an ideology. All that is necessary is for each of us to develop our good human qualities.

We should devote our most serious efforts to bringing about mental peace. From my own limited experience, I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquillity comes from the development of love and compassion.

The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes. Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease.

Because we all share an identical need for love, it is possible to feel that anybody we meet, in whatever circumstances, is a brother or sister. 

I try to treat whomever I meet as an old friend. This gives me a genuine feeling of happiness. It is the practice of compassion.
Dalai Lama, Tibetan spiritual and political leader, Voices from the Heart

God and Holiness as a source of meaning and Happiness

The knowledge of man's misery without that of God causes despair.
Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662, French intellectual, Thoughts

There is no salvation outside the church.
Saint Augustine, 354-430, Christian intellectual and leader, De Baptismo contra Donatistas 

Religion gives safety, confidence and hope to the human spirit; the spirit gains the certainty of a saving truth that repeals the corrosion of doubt.
E. Morin, French intellectual, Método V

Religious faith, as the faith in an idea, is a profound strength that helps to support against the cruelty of the world.
E. Morin, French intellectual, Método V 

Music, Poetry and Art as Sources of Meaning and happiness

In a world so often cruel and uninteresting, music, poetry, and the arts in general, are a way of giving meaning to life and happiness.

Without poets and artists, men would rapidly succumb to the monotony of nature.
Guillaume Apollinaire, 1880-1918, French writer, The Cubist Painters

For people of feeling, the aim of the arts is to conjure away the burden of bitterness.
Gustav Flaubert, 1821-1880, French writer, in M. Nadeau Correspondence 

Aesthetics, in a society such as ours, so separated from religion and magic, has a capital virtue: it allows us not only to appreciate the beauties of existence, it creates not only beauty, or else joy, but it also helps us to tolerate the unsupportable surplus of reality, and, simultaneously, to face the world’s cruelty.
E. Morin, French intelectual, Method V 

The role of art is to make a world which can be inhabited.
William Saroyan, 1908-1981, American writer, in interview to The New York Times, 31/10/1983. 

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
William Shakespeare, 1564-1616, English writer, Twelfth Night

O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound 
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour!
William Shakespeare, 1564-1616, English writer, Twelfth Night

Is Happiness and meaning Lasting?

Happiness isn’t eternal or permanent. Pain and cruelty are always peeping into our lives. So, up to which point are we happy or not?

Man can climb to the highest summits, but he cannot dwell there long.
Bernard Shaw, 1856-1960, Irish writer, Candida

We are never as happy or unhappy as we imagine.
Rochefoucauld, 1613-1680, French writer, Maxims 

The aptitude of man to suffer is comparable to his aptitude to enjoy, and his aptitude to misery is inseparable from his aptitude to happiness.
E. Morin, French intelectual, Método V

Man is the artificer of his own happiness.
Henry Thoreau, 1817-1862, American essayist, Journal

We cannot but desire truth and happiness, but we are incapable of certainty or happiness.
Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662, French intelectual, Thoughts

Men of ill judgement often ignore the good that lies within their hands.
Sophocles, 496-406 a. C, Greek poet, Antigone

As a rule, happiness dulls our intelligence, and it isn’t easy to keep our psychic balance when we are happy.
Ovid, 43 b. C. -17 a. C, Roman writer, The Art of Love

Sources of meaning of life and happiness

Isn’t precisely happiness what everybody wants?», asked Saint Augustine, in the 5th century.

«All human beings are equal in both their desire for happiness and their right to obtain it», considered the Dalai Lama more recently, embodying a largely consensual answer.

But is happiness possible or lasting? And under what conditions?

The answers are, naturally, many and very divergent. Johann Goethe, as most of us, admits the existence of happiness though not lasting: many things do last, but not continuous happiness.

This is a consensual perspective, as much as the Dalai Lama’s about our continuous and intimate search and desire for happiness. Pain and fears are always peeping into, always ready to break our lives, but happiness exists as well…

This is not the view of Blaise Pascal, a great Christian thinker of the seventeenth century. For him, human happiness was an impossible task. Listen to him:

«Our minds do not require great education to understand that there is no real and lasting satisfaction; that our pleasures are only vanity; that our evils are infinite; and, lastly, that death, which threatens us every moment, must infallibly place us within a few years under the dreadful end of being for ever either annihilated or unhappy».

Despite his intense faith in God, and unlike St. Augustine, Pascal didn’t achieve inner peace, certainty or illumination. To Pascal, it was impossible to escape from the cruelty of the world, despite our attempts otherwise: «The king is surrounded by persons whose only thought is to divert the king, and to prevent his thinking. For he is unhappy, king though he be, if he think of himself», he considered, in a partially metaphorical tone.

Perhaps what Pascal lacked is «good health and bad memory » that Ingrid Bergman spoke of as being essential to happiness. Pascal suffered very much from illness, which may indeed have had some weight on his ideas about our existential situation.

What was also missing for Pascal was the conviction of St. Augustine, the militant and illuminating faith, for which the epoch may have counted – science, in the seventeenth century was drafting its first leaps and secular thought was beginning to replace Saint Augustine’s mystics... The human world was driving away from the Church and faith. Science was revealing a universe made of an infinite number of galaxies, incomprehensible to man, incompatible with traditional faith, which negatively impressed and anguished Pascal.

St. Augustine and Blaise Pascal both show how our happiness depends on our ideas and philosophies of life. The negative impact of Pascal’s existentialist ideas and conceptions on his happiness (or lack of it, to be more precise) is obvious. Also obvious is the great impact of  Saint Augustine’s faith (though apparently very similar to Pascal’s) in the happiness he felt after his conversion to Christianity.

Also curious is how these same ideas can vary, or be recovered, or be apostatized. «God, give me chastity and continence, but not just now!», demanded Saint Augustine, some years before his adoption of the Christian faith. «Far from me, far from the heart of your serf, my God, confessing to you, the idea of finding happiness in whatever the joy!» he wrote some years after, already converted to Christianity, refusing secular pleasures.