By Momodou Ndow
If you ask people about “happiness and fulfillment” and what it means to them, you will probably get a variety of answers. The general approach to happiness is that if you attain what you desire, you are happy; and if you don’t, you are unhappy. Win the lottery, get a great job, get married, go on a holiday, and you are happy. Miss the lottery, don’t get a great job, don’t get married, don’t go on a holiday, and you are miserable. Or is often considered as a subjective state of mind, as when one claims one is happy when one is at a beach enjoying a cool drink on a hot day, or is out “having fun” with friends.
Webster defined happiness as “the emotion evoked by success or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” But this may sound shallow to a reflective person because they know that this kind of happiness is fleeting. Here one minute and gone the next! When the “having fun” is over or we finally possess what we have been desiring, somehow the happiness soon fades, and before we know it we are back to our disgruntled self again, desiring something new to make us temporarily happy again. However, more often than not, happiness remains forever elusive for those with such shallow views.
But if you go beyond the surface, the understanding of “happiness and fulfillment” drastically changes. Plato argues that we must be moral in order to be truly happy, and that it hinges on the four cardinal virtues: Wisdom, Courage, Moderation, and Justice. Wisdom is based on mind. Plato believes that the wise person uses the mind to understand moral reality and then apply it to daily life. The wise person is guided by prudence in the choices they make. Courage has to do with how we handle adversity, but it also includes one’s convictions. As a matter of fact, Socrates, who was Plato’s mentor, chose to die rather than abandon his deepest convictions. Moderation (self-control) is connected to our desires. Human beings have endless desires, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it becomes problematic when we desire a good thing in the bad way, or a bad thing. Our desires for food, sex, alcohol and material possessions must not consume our lives in a way that compromises our character, but don’t tell that to some people, they may accuse you of being jealous. Justice relates to one’s overall character. For Plato, the just person has a healthy soul, in which reason rules the appetites and our desire for honor. The just person is fulfilled, at peace, and truly happy.
In my evolution, I’ve been inching closer and closer towards Plato’s view of “happiness and fulfillment”. Not there yet though because the gravitation is slow; the road is full of obstacles and other forces are pulling from different directions too. Growing up in a place where resources were limited (and still are), I was made to believe, for the most part, that material success is what defines and fulfills an individual. Your success is generally measured by the amount of material possessions you accumulate, regardless of your character, especially now. This idea of success has now led too many folks in my community to abandoned morality and dignity and plunged into the ocean of injustice and hypocrisy.
The “pretentious culture” in my opinion is a source of misery for too many folks. They will lie, cheat and steal just to impress others. It is simply hard to coexist with these types of people if you’re more interested in simplicity and gratitude. Pretension is a mask that allows you to be someone else, and many get consumed by it. Ultimately it can make you and those around you very unhappy. Our relationships with others, while vital to human existence, can often cause us a tremendous amount of anguish. On the same token, our relationships profoundly influence, if not define many aspects of our lives.
While there are “happiness and fulfillment” prescriptions from thinkers and religion, it should still be considered somewhat relative. What works for one may not work for another. But as I continue my journey in life, I find myself rebelling against this notion of material possession as the yard stick for happiness and success, and define my own state of happiness. My quest for “happiness and fulfillment” has led me down the part of seeking health (moral and physical), peace of mind, and sound wisdom.
In pursuing these goals, I’ve been able to make enormous strides in keeping my sanity, distance myself from unnecessary contention, and avoid the rat race. Moreover, I focus on nurturing who I am, rather than who I should be. I refuse to surrender to the unnatural demands of the class struggle, my lucidity is too important. My objective is to live simply, live well, and try to make a difference (no matter how little). Overall, I’m in a place of contentment and it keeps getting better. We should all learn to appreciate the simple things in life more, for they can bring you the most happiness