Friday, January 9, 2009

Pursuing Happiness

The first thing that struck me while reading this essay is how directly it seems to address an issue of this present day and age. It is amazing how the same problems arise even half a century apart.

In his article “Have No Right To Happiness” Lewis claims that there is a Natural Law behind the laws of the state. He justifies this because without such a natural law the state laws would be absolute, and there could be opposition to them. Clearly this claim is supported throughout history as people have challenged the state’s right to make and enforce certain laws. Revolutions have occurred because a significant number of people have agreed that the laws of the state do not coincide with some inherent law to which everything is subject: Law of Nature.

Lewis goes on to examine two interpretations of the entitlement of man to “the pursuit of happiness.” First, Lewis accurately states the author’s original interpretation to mean that man is permitted to happiness as long as his actions are within the boundaries of the laws of both the state and nature. I agree with Lewis’ understanding of the original intent because it coincides with the provision for equal opportunity which is also found in the United States Constitution. Furthermore, Lewis incorporates this equality in his interpretation when he says that “whatever means of pursuing happiness are lawful for any should be lawful for all.”

The second interpretation that Lewis presents is one used by many average citizens. In this interpretation happiness is understood to mean sexual happiness. Thus, man’s right is to be sexually happy regardless of how such happiness is obtained. Lewis makes a startling yet very accurate observation regarding how average citizens control human impulses. He points out that most human impulses are “bridled” to some degree in order to prevent self-preservation from becoming cowardice, curiosity from becoming avarice etc. However, our natural desire for sex is more commonly given free-reign. This is particularly prevalent in today’s culture. It is common practice to overlook the means by which we arrive at sexual happiness. This is justified by linking sexual happiness to love. While Lewis makes no mention of the need to distinguish between the two I believe it is necessary to do so. Lewis does state that love, in connection with sexual happiness, is not guaranteed to last forever and will not necessarily result in lasting happiness. Just as it is impossible to come to a complete understanding by only looking along the beam, as Lewis describes in “Meditations on a Tool Shed,” so it is impossible to understand the true nature of our happiness while we are experiencing purely sexual happiness. After the sexual happiness has past, Lewis warns that we may discover its nature to have been an illusion.
Lewis’ final points are that allowing the pursuit of sexual happiness leaves women at a disadvantage and will lead to more concessions of moral behavior and ultimately the heart of civilization “will be swept away.” I agree that if we give temptation a foothold by overlooking the careless actions leading to sexual happiness, and sexual happiness itself outside of marriage, we will be hard pressed to guard the rest of our society from such temptations.

In his essay, Lewis addresses the issue of happiness mostly in reference to sexual happiness as it is commonly used. However, he also addresses the issue of happiness in general which he believes we have a right to obtain. I agree that we do have this right within the boundaries of state and natural laws as Lewis portrays. However, I would encourage everyone to pursue joy before pursuing happiness. Joy is more stable and less dependent on our situations. It is possible to gain this joy when we seek God and strive to follow His will.

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