What is the true, definition of happiness? Not knowing this definition can mean never fully achieving it. Happiness, for many, is a state into which one enters when pleasure outweighs suffering.
Pleasure itself is not a state, but a positive sensation. The most obvious way to have pleasure, and therefore also the easiest, is by positively stimulating the sensors of our bodies. If something appears (e.g., a beautiful sunset), sounds (e.g., good music), smells (e.g., flowers), tastes (e.g., good food), or feels nice (e.g., sunshine), then it is a pleasurable experience.
But sometimes pleasure comes in less obvious ways, as a matter of awareness more than sensation. For example, having good food is enjoyable, but the food "tastes" even better when it is enjoyed at a special occasion. The awareness of the significance of the event somehow enhances the pleasure of eating.
This phenomenon raises an ideological question: is physical pleasure the goal of life in this world, or a wonderful by-product of it?
The difference between these two understandings dramatically affects the way one approaches life. If one believes, either consciously or subconsciously, that physical pleasure is the goal of life, then anything that might inhibit it, delay it, or make it difficult to achieve it, will be viewed as detrimental.
We pour all of our life force into our goals in life, and side-step or obliterate the things that frustrate our course of action. Hence the Western world’s devotion to entertainment in all forms, and, its extreme distaste for Torah or anything that remotely resembles it.
How does the Western mentality, as a culture, define the components of the equation of life:
randomly evolved masses of flesh, with intelligence but without any aspect of divinity
[ Y ]
constant positive physical stimulation
[ Happiness ]
physical ecstasy, or, the absence of physical suffering
Since compromise is inevitable, the question when evaluating a goal has to be, "compromise what?" Western culture’s response: compromise spiritual values.
However, if physical pleasure is not the be-all and end- all of life, but just a by-product of it, then obviously it too may be subject to compromise if it conflicts with the overall goal of life; hence the Torah point of view.
It is not that Torah conflicts with Western philosophy over the goal of life. Both Torah and the Western world advocate pleasure and happiness. After all, the Torah begins its account with life in Paradise (the Garden of Eden). Where Torah differs from the Western point of view regarding the goal of life is over the real definition of ultimate pleasure and true happiness.
The teaching states:
According to the effort is the reward. (Ethics of Our Fathers 5:22)If the reward is a function of effort, then it must be that making an "effort" is the goal of life. The truth is, we do enjoy that which we struggle to achieve. In fact, the greater we struggle, the more we enjoy the results of our efforts.
The thing is, though, we have difficulty expending too much energy for physical pleasures. At a certain point in our struggle to achieve physical pleasure, we may ask ourselves, "Does this make sense?" Inherently we see something hedonistic about devoting too much energy to achieving physical pleasure.
Then what is it that we don’t mind stretching ourselves for? What is meaningful enough to warrant tremendous self-sacrifice, and thereby become the source of great enjoyment?
Human beings, as much as they are driven to have physical pleasure, innately desire one thing more: significance. We want to be significant, and the best way we achieve that is by doing significant things. And if we don’t feel significant, then the pain becomes so great that we are forced to take our minds off our lives by way of distraction (the therapeutic side of the entertainment industry).
What is the most significant thing human beings do? Create. When we create something, we feel a greater sense of being, which in turn makes us feel more real.
What is the most significant thing we can create? There is no more significant creation than the creation of our self, and no more pleasurable act than the fulfillment of our personal potential. When a person is aware of this, then he or she is able to have great pleasure from less, because development of self has less to do with what one has than what one does with what one has.
There will always be things in life that provide instant stimulation and thrill, but the pleasure they provide will be limited and fleeting if they play little or no significant role in the development of one’s self. From this point of view, the formula for a happy life becomes:
potential to become significant through spiritual achievements
[ Y ]
a system that enhances one’s awareness of his potential and the opportunity to realize it
[ Happiness ]
the fulfillment of personal potential and creation of self
What is true happiness? It is the state one enters when realizing one’s own potential, while creating one’s own self. Assuming that the "human being" factor is a constant (a fully known value), and not a variable, resolving the equation of life should be simple. But, it turns out, such an assumption may not be well-founded after all.