19 December 2008

Leonardo Boff : Is It Possible To Be Happy In An Unhappy World?

[Leonardo Boff is a Brazilian theologian of the Liberation Theology school and academic whom the Catholic hierarchy led by the current Pope has sought to silence time and again for his support for the poor and for his condemnation of religious terrorism]

We cannot cease from asking how to be happy in an unhappy world. More than half of the world population is suffering, living below poverty levels. There are earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods and drought.

In Brazil, only 5,000 families control 46% of the national riches. Worldwide, 1,125 multi-millionaires have wealth equal to or greater than that of countries with 59% of the humanity. Global warming raises the spectre of grave threats against the stability of the planet and the future of humanity. Is it possible to be happy in this scenario? We can only be happy together with others…

It is important to recognise that these contradictions do not invalidate the search for happiness. The search is permanent, even if its results are minimal. This obliges us to engage in a critical, and not naïve, discourse about the opportunities for possible happiness.

In past reflections on the same theme, we emphasised the fact that sustainable happiness is only that which springs from the related characteristic of being human, and following on, to learn to look for the proper measure of the contradictions of the human condition.

Happy is he who comes to accept life as it is, writing on the crooked lines. Deepening the question, we can now reflect on what it is to be and feel happy. Pedro Demo, in my opinion one of the best among the Brazilian intelligentsia among us, best studied the Dialectics of Happiness (Three Volumes, 2001). He distinguished between two times of happiness: vertical and horizontal times.

The vertical is the intense moment, ecstatic and profoundly felt: the first loving relationship, having passed through a difficult course, the birth of the first child. The person is happy. It is a powerful moment, deeply felt, but fleeting.

The horizontal is that which is stretched out from day to day like the routine, with its limitations. Managing the limits wisely, knowing how to negotiate the contradictions, getting the best out of each situation: this is what makes a person happy.

Maybe marriage serves as an illustration. It all starts with infatuation, passion and the idealisation of eternal love, which seeks to live together. This is the experience of being happy. But, with the passing of time, intense love gives way to routine and the reproduction of the same type of relationship with its natural entropy. In this situation, normal in a relationship of two, one has to learn to speak, to tolerate, to sacrifice and to cultivate the tenderness without which love exhausted ends up as indifference. Here is where a person can be happy or unhappy.

Inventiveness and practical wisdom are necessary to be happy over a period of time. Invention is the capacity to break the routine: visiting a friend, going to the theatre, inventing a programme. Practical wisdom is knowing how to face up to questions, accepting limits with lightness of spirit, knowing how to rhyme dolor (sadness) with amor (love). Not to do this is to be unhappy all life long.

Feeling happy is momentary. Being happy is an extended state. The latter endures because it is recreated and nourished. Someone can be happy being unhappy, for instance, having an intense (momentary) moment of happiness like meeting up with a brother who has escaped death just as one can be happy (as in a state) without being happy (as in a moment), for instance without something spectacular happening.

Happiness shares our incompleteness. It is never full and complete. I make mine the brilliant metaphor of Pedro Demo, “happiness shares the logic of the flower: there is no separating the beauty of its fragility with its opening”.

Source: CubaDebate

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