O.k. I’ve just hit age 40 and am starting to ponder the big question again–What is the purpose of life? I think I remember Thomas Aquinas concluding that happiness was the ultimate goal of life. I remember being surprised, assuming that was simplistic and an almost secular sounding answer. However, I’m starting to think now, that perhaps, happiness is indded the goal for which we are all striving. Now, how we go about attaining this state of happiness would undoubtable lead to many deep and well-reasoned philosophising. But am I right? Does the Church teach that happiness is the ultimate personal goal?
If I remember right, the answer to the question in the Baltimore Catechism “Why did God make me?” goes something like this:
God made me to know, love, and serve Him in this life, and to be happy in Heaven with Him in the next.
~~ the phoenix
So, in the process of “knowing, loving, and serving Him” here on earth, I might be miserably unhappy. The happiness comes later? Or should the 'knowing, loving, and serving Him" here automatically make one happy?
You may be unhappy in this vale of tears, but you can still be filled with joy. To quote the Bible, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” – Philippians 4:4.
Once in a catechism study group, someone made the comment that sometimes this life with its problems can be like a bad bus ride with a lot of painful bumps … but once we reach Heaven, we will look back on even the most horrible parts of the journey and consider that all the pain of earthly life was worth it, since suffering in union with Christ on the Cross for love of God can help bring us to the everlasting happiness of Heaven. Maybe a silly example, but it struck a chord with me anyways, so I thought I’d share.
And who knows? You may be blessed with some happiness here on Earth as well … God in His Loving Providence knows what is best for you, and that is His Will for you, and you can trust Him.
I’m also reminded of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima. Mary told the seers that they would go to Heaven. She also showed them a vision of Hell, where the souls of poor sinners go who have no one to pray for them. She then asked if they would be willing to suffer for the conversion of sinners. Heroically, all of the children responded YES to accept whatever suffering the Lord would send, and then embarked on a life of penance the likes of which many adults would not consider.
Hope that some of my musings and ramblings help you!
~~ the phoenix
Peter Kreeft has an excellent book, Back to Virtue, that highlights your question throughout. He says the real pursuit of our life should not be happiness but blessedness and he outlines this with the beatitudes in the sermon on the mount. He has a great writing style and is very knowledgeable in Church teaching and philosophy (he’s a philosophy professor at Boston College I believe.) I’d highly recommend getting a copy of his book to read.
Happiness is what you feel when things are going YOUR way.
Joy is what you feel when you what know you what you are doing in your life is pleasing to the LORD.
If you love the Lord, do what you know deep inside is pleasing to him and the joy you feel will put your personal happiness in the backseat of your life pretty quick.
Some of the greatest Saints to have ever lived were not “happy” people. However, they were bursting at the seams with great joy in pleasing the Lord.
God bless you!
I need clarification between Joy and Happiness, IanS. They sound the same to me. If I’m doing what pleases God and am full of Joy, then I’m happy, right? Let’s say I’m on death row for a crime I did not commit and lead a good Christian life in prison, am I joyful? Am I joyful if I am leading a virtuous life and then my wife leaves me and breaks up my family? If I have cronic illness and offer up my suffering to God for many years am I still joyful?
[quote=knute]I need clarification between Joy and Happiness, IanS. They sound the same to me. If I’m doing what pleases God and am full of Joy, then I’m happy, right?
I don’t know if I can expand much on my definitions. I’m sure others will disagree, but I just see happiness as having more selfish motives. So No, you will not always be happy when you are doing what is pleasing to the LORD. Do you think the early Christians were really “happy” about being tortured to death? However, they were singing hymns and praising God out of the “joy” they were feeling by offering their lives for the Kingdom. Definitely not always the same.
YES! What world do you want to please, this or the next? What is more important, your own hide or your immortal soul?
YES! Remember, Abraham was willing to slaughter his own son for the Lord.
YES! Funny you should mention that. I buried my wife’s mother two months ago. She suffered for many years from a terminal illness, and died at age 59. She never gave any thought to God until she was faced with her own mortality. Do you think she was happy about slowly suffocating to death? But she died in a state of grace and peace because she turned her life over to Jesus. That’s joy.
I’m not saying this stuff is easy, it’s just the truth.
The word Aquinas used for “happiness” we would really translate as “fulfillment.” The natural end of life is fulfillment, and a rich spiritual life is required to meet this end. The spiritual end is knowing and loving God and salvation of the soul. Natural fulfillment is also necessary for this end, although fulfillment is not the same as utilitarian pleasure. In fact, far from it. Aquinas was basically a eudaimonist, a follower of Aristotle, who also taught that natural fulfillment is the purpose of life.
Of course, biologically speaking, our purpose is to procreate.
Hmmm. Very interesting, tiny’smommy. Now I need more info. How would you define natural fulfillment? I’m guessing it doesn’t mean one will necessarily be “happy”. How does one know he is “fulfilled”?
Fulfillment is just what the word implies…being 'full", feeling like we are “filled” to capacity with joy, which comes from God as his Gift for being in His will for us. Which, as has been pointed out - has nothing to do with happiness. We can feel fulfilled in our work - but not be happy at having to go there everyday. We can feel fulfilled at helping someone through a difficult place in life - but not be happy about their situation, or our exposure to it. We can feel fulfillment after confession, but not be happy about the sins that put us there, or having to go to confession at all. We CAN be happy that there is the sacrament of confession to go to, we Can be happy that we were in a place to help someone, and we Can be happy that we have a job to go to.
Does that help?
I feel, myself - getting back to the thread topic - that the purpose of Life is God. In the sense that we are put here to encounter, experience, and - through Christ and the Saints (Mary Included) overcome Evil. To CHOOSE to Love God, and deny evil (Sin). God desires our pure love - not obligatory, not coerced (Love me or die kind of thing) but us choosing, of our own God given free will, to Love Him because He IS. To become perfected through the struggles encountered, and lead others to the same unity with God that we have.
We have the option of rejecting Him, and taking our reward now (Somewhere in scripture, in talking about the riches of the world, Jesus said “Truly I say to you - they have their reward”) and that is our option - of our own free will. But then, we are struggling against Gods will - as He is not willing that any should perish. Still, we have choice.
That’s my opinion
[quote=knute]O.k. I’ve just hit age 40 and am starting to ponder the big question again–What is the purpose of life? I think I remember Thomas Aquinas concluding that happiness was the ultimate goal of life. I remember being surprised, assuming that was simplistic and an almost secular sounding answer. However, I’m starting to think now, that perhaps, happiness is indded the goal for which we are all striving. Now, how we go about attaining this state of happiness would undoubtable lead to many deep and well-reasoned philosophising. But am I right? Does the Church teach that happiness is the ultimate personal goal?
Happiness is not the ultimate goal in life…your pupose in found in the first chapter of the Bible which says we were created in the likeness of God…meaning that we are to reflect God’s glory! Making God’s name famous and reflecting his character to those around us is where we will be ultimately and truly fufilled. Life is not about us…and it’s all about Him! It is very possible that you will be the happiest when you are glorifying God…but don’t try and seek out happiness for yourself…it’s not worth it because human’s idea of happiness is way different from the joy that only God can give. Your life is a fleeting vapor and if you try seeking happiness the entire time…the end of your life will come and will all be a waste if you didn’t spend your time glorifying God and trying to make a mark in enternity rather than here on earth.
Natural law theory is based on the idea of fulfillment. To be fulfilled, all your needs are truely being met: life, health, love, marriage, family, education, religion, work, play, and home. Everybody has different levels for each category. Some people need more play and less education to be fulfilled, like me! This is all based on human nature, and nothing supernatural. A Hindu has the same natural requirements to be fulfilled as a Christian. But the argument could be made that a Christian will necessarily be more fulfilled than a Hindu given the same circumstances because the religious experience is more authentic, and fulfilling.
In my own life, the times that I have found myself in serenity and quite happy and feeling fufilled, are when I feel that I am pleasing God and doing his will. Nothing else has ever given me such feelings of happiness and purpose, except during the times when I know that I am behaving and acting in a way that pleases God.
Of course we are human, and doing this on a consistent basis, I find to be sort of hard. But I never quit striving, when I fail I go to confession, and start anew, and the happiness always follows.
I can almost assure you that St. Thomas, being an aristolean, did not mean that “happiness” was actually a constant yuck-it-up world centered on one’s own personal, 24-hour happiness, i.e., always feeling good and pleasure. Let me get the philosopher up from his nap and ask him.
The live-in philosopher (a genuine phenomonologist, university-type teaching person) said:
“Aristotle said the mankind’s highest aim was Happiness. Aquinas was quoting Aristotle. Aquinas agrees with this in part, but states that Christians’ happiness is divinely based and derived from God. Therefore, if mankind is ever to achieve Happiness, it must be firmly based on God and God’s Will.”
The short answer that I always try to remember is that the purpose of life is to become fully sanctified, as Christ was on earth, so that we may fully glorify God in our actions and deeds for eternity.
[quote=awalt]The short answer that I always try to remember is that the purpose of life is to become fully sanctified, as Christ was on earth, so that we may fully glorify God in our actions and deeds for eternity.