Should Happiness Be Our Ultimate Goal?

    According to Buddhist philosophy happiness is the ultimate goal.  Buddhism distinguishes however between happiness and pleasure.  Immediate gratification may lead to pleasure but may also lead to unhappiness.  Buddhist philosophy entails eliminating negative emotions such as anger and trying to fill one's mind with positive emotions such as compassion.  There is however, in my opinion a place for anger and other "negative" emotions.  If someone does something outrageous to someone we care about, it's good if we become angry, especially if that anger motivates us to do something about it.  If after September 11th Americans went around being happy they wouldn't do anything about it and the terrorists would strike again. 

   I think to be a happy person one has to be a good person.  Being a good person however, means being willing to make sacrifices for the happiness of others and to make the world a better place.  It means being willing to make sacrifices that can lead to one's own unhappiness.  The implication of this, I think, is that if we want happiness we can't get it by making it our ultimate goal but rather only one of our goals and that in order to be happy our ultimate goal has to be to make the world a better place.

    According to Jewish philosophy happiness is not the ultimate goal.  Below is an excerpt from Dearer Than Life -- Making Your Life More Meaningful a book by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

"Much of Western culture appears to consider happiness as the ultimate goal in life, and defines ideal happiness as freedom from all distress and enjoyment of all pleasures. This is certainly not the Torah concept, which considers human beings to have a specific assignment to complete on earth. If being content were all there is to seek in life, then endowing man with the capacity of intelligence was counterproductive. Cows in the pasture are undoubtedly far more content than sophisticated humans. "In order for a person to have self-esteem and a feeling of value, life must have meaning. In fact, meaning and value are inseparable. " 'Esteem' comes from the Latin word that means to evaluate or to appraise. Let us look at what is the basis of self-esteem and how we ascribe value to anything. "If we look around at all the objects in our homes, we will find that with the exception of items that have sentimental value only, we value things for one of two reasons: aesthetic or functional. Thus, you may have a handsome grandfather clock whose mechanism has broken and cannot be repaired. You keep the clock anyway, because it is an attractive piece of furniture and it beautifies your home. However, if your can opener broke, you would get rid of it, because it has no aesthetic value, and since it can no longer serve its purpose it has no value at all. "Let us now apply these criteria to ourselves. Just what is our function? What purpose do we serve? "

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