PURPOSE AND THE MEANINGFUL LIFE – INTERNAL REALITY – PART III

“It is sweet, solitude,

as long as the way back

to others

remains open.

After all, you don’t shine

for yourself.” – Olav H. Huage

After reviewing the first two components of internal purpose – the goal of a good life and the ceaseless effort at self-perfection –we come to the third component, the aspiration for internal happiness.

HAPPINESS

This third purpose at the level of the individual means not transient feelings of happiness, but rather the experience of the totality of one’s life as a happy or fulfilling – what the ancient Greeks called Eudaimonia. In one sense happiness is derivative of the previously discussed concept of making a good life for oneself. From a psychological standpoint, happiness can be seen as a state of mind, perhaps even a simple choice, and thus is intimately related to self-perfection. But Kant offers an alternative view – since we do not or cannot know what will make us happy, our goal or purpose is rather to be worthy of happiness. For me this contains a reflexive corollary – our individual purpose includes the goal of a globally happy existence instantiated in actions we believe merit the reward of happiness.

A second dimension of internal happiness as purpose is the exercise of solitude. Separation from others can of course be negative as in isolation or loneliness, but some prefer solitary time or even a solitary life. In solitude one finds pleasure in the escape from human distractions and worldly influences and the opportunity for knowing oneself better and for grasping the cosmos and the divine. Internal happiness ultimately requires being comfortable by and with oneself as many philosophers tells us including Descartes, Montaigne, Emerson, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Thoreau, and many others.

In his book, The Philosophy of Loneliness, Lars Svendsen, a Norwegian philosopher, tells us solitude is “an indefinite openness to a variety of experiences, thoughts, and emotions.”1 He believes it is a general human trait perhaps more pleasurable for older individuals than the young who are more likely to identify time alone as loneliness. Referencing Johann Georg Zimmerman (author of Solitude, a 1600 page tome from 1784), loneliness comes from idleness, misanthropy, ennui, and melancholy, while solitude implies freedom and independence, although it is still best combined with human interaction.2 Kant appears to agree; solitude cannot be shyness or dislike of others, but self-sufficiency without unsociability borders on the sublime.3 Martin Heidegger points out an irony of human existence; death, the focal point of life, is experienced individually while only in solitude can you become who you are.4

(continued next post)

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1Svendsen, Lars, A Philosophy of Loneliness. Reaktion Books, Ltd., London, 2015. ISBN 978-1-78023-747-3, page 108.

2Ibid., page 109.

3Ibid., page 110.

4Ibid., page 115.

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