It’s Holiness, Not Happiness

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What you seek is seeking you – Rumi

What do we actually seek? Is it happiness? I don’t think so. Although we seek out pleasure every day, deep down, we are endowed with moral imagination. We all seek to lead lives not just of pleasure, but of purpose, righteousness, and virtue. That’s holiness.

We’re not only want to be rich, we also want to be humble. We’re not only want to be famous, so we feel accepted, we also seek something deeper, we want to accept ourselves fully. And according to Carl Jung that is the most terrifying thing.

Why? Because we are flawed creatures. And we don’t want to accept that. We say we do one thing but end up doing the opposite. We know what is better for our health but end up ignoring it. We give in to short-term desires even when we know we shouldn’t.

Adding to that, we are also bombarded by self-help, self-improvement, self-this, self-that teachings that say: “be true to yourself if you want to be happy.”

Happiness is a byproduct of holy actions, holy decisions. In reality, those actions and decisions are difficult. Mostly a struggle, not joyful or happy feelings. Life is essentially a moral drama, not a hedonistic one. A moral drama is a struggle against sin and virtue.

The struggle to always choose holiness will make our life meaningful. It will mature us.

As David Brooks in his wonderful book says:

“The person who successfully struggles against weakness and sin may or may not become rich and famous, but that person will become mature. It is earned not by being better than other people at something, but by being better than you used to be. It is earned by being dependable in times of testing, straight in times of temptation. Maturity does not glitter.”

Those are hard to achieve, but we can try one thing that has been used and tested by many successful people.

Watching the wise and improve on them

The purpose of the struggle against sin and weakness is not to “win,” because that is not possible; it is to get better at waging it. You become more disciplined, considerate, and loving through a thousand small acts of self-control, sharing, service, friendship, and refined enjoyment. Thousand of small acts or a habit. As Aristotle said:

We are what we repeatedly do, therefore, excellence is not an act but a habit.

What’s the right habit? what small acts should we do? The answer: follow the wise and improve on them.

Choose an ideal person. Who that person is up to you. Perhaps it’s your father or your grandfather. Maybe it’s a prophet or a philosopher or a writer. They are here as an example, as a role model, as a reference. Use them as inspiration, learn what they say ‘yes’ to and what they say ‘no’ to. Cultivate their habits.

Because no one can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. An individual will, reason, compassion, and character is not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride, greed, and self-deception. Everybody needs redemptive assistance from outside—from God, family, friends, role model, rules, traditions, institutions, and exemplars.

The Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius found this piece of advice important enough to jot it down to himself. It’s worth considering today and practical enough to incorporate into your life immediately:

To think continually of one of the men of old who lived a virtuous life.

It doesn’t stop there. We can further improve what we have learned from our ideals.

Let’s say your ideal is your father. He has a habit of waking up early, speaking softly, kind and generous. You continuously stretch yourself by trying to do what he would do. You also aware that he’s a human after all. He makes mistakes, we are the same flawed creatures. What you can do is to improve that mistake for yourself.

You will not only become that ideal but someone better.

Above all, we need an anchor to guide us daily. Why do we do all of these? Because we seek something and we know that thing is also looking for us.

We are both flawed yet wonderful creatures. We can’t only seek happiness; it won’t mature us. We want something better, something more important than being happy.

Always remember: seek, strive, struggle for holiness.

 

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