Happiness and the Human Mind

Humans are frenzied islands of consciousness, possessing characteristics both good and evil. If we wish to contemplate reality, then we must accept that our good characteristics are balanced with flaws, faults and limitations. Conversely, the malevolent side of our nature possesses some beneficial qualities, as well. It is this balance of the good and wicked sides of our personality that we must understand. But, we must dig deeper to truly comprehend the complex foundation of our behavior.

There is a great deal more to our personality than the ubiquitous battleground of good versus evil. We are not one or the other, but a combination of both. We are attractive and hideous, comforting and horrifying, wicked and compassionate; we can love and we can loathe. Unlike animals, humans are complex creatures ruled by principles, moral beliefs and veracity. We are governed by ideations of probity, integrity and honor. Yet, how can we know that our beliefs are virtuous? If we were raised by criminals, would ruthlessness become a virtue? How can we tell if we are a good person?

Determined by genetic predisposition and acquired emotions, our personality is formed at a young age. By the time we are a teenager, our complex personality has been fully formed. It will never change, barring a very significant life event. We learn to act in ways that mimic our parents and close relatives. Their beliefs become the basis for our morality, our interactions and, ultimately, our happiness. Morality can also be powerfully influenced by outside forces. For example, many Europeans accepted Hitler’s propaganda and believed that Jews were evil. Thus, our concepts of ethical morality can be twisted to achieve dark goals.

In addition to morality, our personality is influenced by powerful emotions churning within our consciousness. Emotions alter our relationships and inspire or prevent virtuous behavior. No emotion pushes us to behave more powerfully than does guilt. Not love. Nor anger. Not even happiness drives us to act more influentially than does guilt. Our minds are aggressively provoked by contemplation of our culpability and this remorse becomes a primary motivator in decision-making. The surprising aspect of this reality is that we fail to recognize it. We can ignore guilt or learn from it, but we can never escape from it. Even the most innocent of us are burdened by thoughts of guilt and remorse. When we dwell upon these forces of compunction, our behavioral balance becomes tilted toward sorrow and anger. We become depressed, paralyzed and tormented.

Humans are faced with treacherous forces throughout life. We are, at times, victims of deceit and cruelty. We face the loss of a career, a home or a loved one. Our lives are precarious and the only thing that we can count on is change. Yet, in the midst of despair, there also exists love, desire, and hope. Even in desperate misery, there can be faith and compassion; things that humans crave. Those of us who find a way to balance the rollercoaster ride of emotions and who possess a sound concept of morality are the happiest. Of course, this is easier said than done.

Life is tragic, exciting, wonderful, and terrifying - all at the same time. Yet our journey throughout the passage of time allows us to act in ways that benefit others. All of us have the capacity to act in ways that benefit others. We can be honorable, empathetic and loving individuals. This can be our goal. Compassion and empathy are the most valued characteristics of humanity; including all societies and all of our religions. We can teach the significance of empathy and tolerance to our children. While that might not be our destiny, it is within our capacity to achieve.

Making decisions is the only true freedom that any of us have. The consequences of our decisions frame our character and form our legacy. We can reason and act in wise and virtuous ways. But, we must challenge the authenticity of our acquired morality. We must do what so many Europeans did not do during the Holocaust. It has always been easier to fear and hate, than to value and tolerate. We must reflect upon incoming propaganda and determine if it truly reflects esteemed concepts of human compassion and empathy. This is not a purpose, but a gift possessed only by humans.

Happiness has a great deal to do with our principles and morality. We have the capacity to grow beyond our self-centered ego. As a child, we desire that which makes us feel good. As an adult, we should realize that virtue derives from compassion. Fulfillment comes from the knowledge that we have improved the world in some way; that we made someone’s life better. The fact that we have only one shot at life makes each moment, each interaction, critically precious.

Our actions echo through eternity in those who remember us. Happiness results from the discovery of our inner balance between emotions and values. But the road to contentment lies not just in maintaining a balance between emotions and values, but also in finding ways to act in a righteous manner. For the more we love others, the more we will be loved in return. The more virtuous we are, the greater our importance to society and the planet. Contentment is a gift that each of us can control. It is achieved, ironically, by making others happy. Each of us has this capacity. It’s always within reach. We attain it by understanding why we behave and how we can change our actions to enhance the lives of others. In this regard, happiness is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, Jacob's Courage

Why We Exist

Why am I here? What should I do? Where should I go? With whom? What will happen when I am gone? Why is there so much pain? What is the meaning of life?

We are fortunate to have become sentient life forms. Evolution allowed us to reach this point. However, the capacity to comprehend does not lend any more purpose to our existence than has an ant, a fish or a bird. Our purpose in life is, quite simply, procreation. Make more humans and we have accomplished our reason for being here.

Yet, we have the capacity to do more, to be more, and to act in ways that benefit others. We can appreciate our existence, manipulate our environment and improve the lives of others. We can be moral, compassionate and ethical. Some may describe this as egocentric nihilism. So, be it. It can be in our nature to enhance the condition of humanity and improve the quality of our environment.

Some of the most beautiful and gifted people perish at a young age. Some of the most terrible monsters enjoy long comfortable lives. There is no rhyme or reason to the symphony of life. It is tragic, electrifying, magnificent, and terrifying - all at the same time. Are we confined to the role of observant passenger throughout the passage of time? Can we act in ways that impact society, benefiting future generations? Can we impart this value to our progeny? Whether or not this is our destiny, the prospect exists and its meaning calls through the silence of time to all of us.

We do not exist to do something or to be someone. Although we have innate gifts, randomness plays a critical role. We are born into to wealth or poverty. Our parents love us or beat us. The randomness of our birth condemns us to poverty or places us in circumstances of great wealth; we receive superior guidance from a loving family, or we are thrown into the cold, dark world as orphans. Yet there are those who overcome such travesties of unfortunate circumstance. Some of the most depressed people are wealthy beyond avarice, as are many of the physically beautiful. Conversely, some of the most unattractive, deprived people are also the happiest. We strive to consume, to own and to possess. We learn, work and achieve. But, are we fulfilled?

Our destiny is created through decisions. It is the only true freedom that any of us have. The consequences of our decisions create or deny opportunities. We can overcome severe impediments by virtue of our ability to reason and act wisely. This is not our purpose. Rather, it is a gift. How we use this gift determines our legacy.

A metaphysical explanation for death, heaven, God, alternate dimensions or a parallel universe is not required for us to feel satisfied. Happiness has little to do with ideations of conscience or delusions of morality. The Torah teaches us that whoever saves a person saves the whole world in turn. If there is any meaning in life it is that we have the capacity to help others. We can touch lives and make them better. The context of this morality is compassion. Compassion ennobles humanity and enhances its significance. The human soul does not thrive on value (Nietzsche). It thrives on love and compassion. We have the capacity to grow beyond our self-centered ego. What we do with our lives echoes throughout eternity in those who remember us. The doorway to this reward is ethical behavior. Yes, it is subjective. But reason and logic alone leave us wanting.

The currency of life is empathy. The more we give, the more we receive. Anyone can be wealthy in this regard. Environmental conditions and strength of purpose allow someone with a short, miserable life in painful squalor to become happy and fulfilled. Accomplishment comes from the knowledge that one’s presence in life improved the world in some way. A search for further meaning is superfluous.

Time is the fire in which we slowly burn. Its flames prick our skin always. Time surrounds us in silent, smoldering malevolence, ever gaining upon our retreat. There is no escape. Death is liberation, not exoneration. The fact that we have only one shot at life makes each moment, each interaction, critical. There are no second chances.

Why do we fear death? Death is simply the normal end to life. It is a release for many and a desire for those who suffer. We mourn lost loved ones. The gaping emptiness is unbearable. Yet, through the sadness and mourning, despite the certainty that they are gone forever, we can rejoice in the way that they touched our life. We can remember their love and pass it along to others.

Humanity grasps an optimistic picture of existence after death. Captivated by a fabricated ideation of heaven, we blunder through life assuming that our ends will more than justify the means. We blindly assume that a “good” deity would always take us into his bosom, allowing us to partake of heavenly bliss. In reality, we are responsible for everything that we do or say. Our actions have consequences. We can help or hurt, assist or ignore, tolerate or hate. And, while it may appear that death is a brick wall upon whose edifice all of our lives must crash, our actions in life echo through eternity. Our behaviors resonate through time, reflecting and refracting across everyone that we encounter and those whom they meet. The resulting clarity becomes the character of our legacy. Good or bad, right or wrong, the remote memory of our existence will be defined by our past and current actions and attitudes.

The noblest effort in our meager existence is to impart value to our progeny’s existence. We can teach our children to respect and honor humanity in all forms; and, to value the differences among us, not fear them. If we are successful, then our lives will be fulfilled. And, when we are gone, our children will rejoice in the way that we touched their lives. This is the meaning of our existence - to touch others in a positive way and to be remembered as a person who values life and improves the world.

Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, Jacob's Courage