Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What Comes First, Success or Happiness?

Catholic Digest has an article by a former education minister on the formula for happiness. What is the essence of education? His answer is to make the students happy. Parents desire the same happiness but for them success needs to come first. 'Sweetness comes after the bitter' is very much part of the parent's thinking: you study hard, go to a good college, get a good job, and succeed, and happiness will follow. On the contrary, in the  study of  psychology, economy and sociology, says the writer, it is clear that those who are happy are the ones who succeed.

He tells us about a trip to a monastery near the Black Sea that was built after the recognition of Catholicism by the Empire in the 4th century. The corruption in the Church was great, and a desire for a return to a renewal of the spiritual life. The monastery he visited was built on the side of a cliff and at its prime would have had over 200 monks; the location was close to  Constantinople and had many monasteries.  

These monks, he says, could have been searching for different values and goals. Some were looking for  reasons for the universe and life, some wanted  prayer, others found life in society difficult etc.....  They had three meals a day, related with their brother monks, worked with them and experienced many different feelings, practiced the virtues and were tempted with many of the vices.  

How did these monks experience happiness differently from those outside the monastery?  He refers to a study made in a convent of sisters on happiness. The happiness level had nothing to do with the experience in the convent or the level of maturity but more to do with habit and training. In other words sisters who where optimistic, joyful and positive were happier than those who did not have these dispositions. Sister who as children was happy would continue to be disposed in this way until death.

In the monastery on the cliff, happy monks lived together with the unhappy ones. And the writer concludes that what you do in life, or happens to you will not determine the degree of happiness but happiness will rest on a person's natural capabilities, habits and personality.  

He mentions  a professor at Berkeley who says a person with a lot of money has more purchasing power but also has more wants which takes away from the quality of life, and the possession of happiness, with the danger of becoming a slave to money. 

Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky  who in her positive psychology studies says the same thing. Happiness brings success. We have to continually experience this happiness be trained and educated in this way of thinking. We should not be awaiting future happiness but happiness in the here and now. We need to educate for happiness and not success.

The opinion in the article works on the empirical scientific research that has been made but the ever present understanding of grace in a person's life, for a Christian, is something we can not evaluate with the tools of science.