Finding Happiness in a Complex World

At every juncture of human life and human operations, we encounter individuals and the community under moral, physical, and spiritual challenge. To soften this void, we engage every sort of “ism” as a substitute purpose for human life, whether it be environmentalism; communism and its penchant for economic redistribution; materialism as its own good; atheism and agnosticism, where nothing can be demonstrated and thus cannot be believed; egoism, that narrow and exclusive pursuit of self-interest as one’s only aim or purpose; nihilism, which purports that nothing in reality is provable; or moral relativism, which denies absolute, universal,and perennial ethical principles in favor of a transient, almost whimsical moral order. Each of these schools of thought falter and foster a personal and communal unease, and even desolation, all at the expense of happiness.

Our politicians, our Church leaders, our entertainers and sports stars have let us down in immeasurable ways. Congress and other governmental authorities have even lower popularity than hardened criminals. No one has much faith in once vaunted and respected institutions, whether it be the Catholic Church’s handling of the sexual abuse crisis or the self-enrichment tactics of congresspersons and senators. None of these conditions lead to human happiness, yet this is precisely the current merry-go-round the world provides. At a whirling pace, the inhabitants of this planet encounter these forces and movements, so briskly and speedily that the human agent cannot properly adjudge most of it. Modern life has become so tumultuous and inexact that it is no wonder there are so many who are depressed, so many who end life prematurely, so many who need intervention to cope, and so, so many who must prop themselves up using artificial mechanisms to be “happy.”

For high school and college students the problems are becoming more than acute, and more so as the COVID crisis labors on. After a lifetime working with young people, from middle school and high school students to undergraduate and graduate students, and even at the doctoral level, I have gazed upon this steady and inevitable decline in my students’ well-being since 1977. I have no faith in any current or modern fad that holds itself as a remedy for unhappiness. In fact, I have never been more convinced that real, meaningful happiness should not depend upon the modern potions bandied about for personal contentment. Indeed, these attractive alternatives work for but a moment in time, and the remedy needed has to be of stronger and longer-term mettle. I have also researched, studied, and applied these fundamental questions in a host of writings and lectures and keep finding myself coming back to two of the West’s greatest thinkers, namely Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas — both of whom have elaborate and highly developed examinations of the concept of happiness. I am firmly and resolutely convinced of their current relevancy because both thinkers offer up an unrivaled blueprint for human fulfillment — a plan worthy of our admiration.

Both thinkers studied and systematized happiness in ways that have contemporary meaning. Aristotle’s masterpiece, the Nicomachean Ethics, a work so significant that Aquinas wrote a massive commentary on its wisdom and applicability fifteen hundred years after its authorship, delivers a recipe for human life and human happiness. The Ethics lays out the processes that lead to human productivity and flourishing — key elements on the road to happiness. Aristotle’s examination of happiness, which he terms eudaimonia, is totally complemented by Aquinas’s Treatise on Happiness — a part of his massive Summa Theologica. In Aristotle, we encounter a pagan believing in many gods, while in Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor and most formidable intellect in the history of Christianity, a Catholic representing the dogma and doctrines of his Faith with accuracy and intellectual brilliance. Both seriously address the question of human happiness and contentment.

Hence, this short text is a “Recipe for Life,” or “Rules for a Happy Life,” fully grounded and dependent upon Aristotle and Aquinas. It is a mix and formula for human happiness that may be meaningful to those in search of a more tranquil state. Unfolding on the pages to come will be a reliable path to human contentment, personal fulfillment, and happiness — not a perfect, exhilarating happiness without interruption or pause. Instead, this recipe and these rules deliver the type of peace and tranquility only possible with a clear understanding of the world around us, the place we fit into the overall scheme of things, and the day-to-day steps and questions needed to be taken and posed to achieve a happy life.

For Aristotle and Aquinas will pose clear and cutting questions in this search for human contentment, including but not limited to:

· Will virtue lead to happiness?

· Will wealth and material possessions lead to happiness?

· Will fame, glory, honor, and power lead to happiness?

· Will pleasure, sensuality, and sexuality lead to happiness?

· Will marriage and family life lead to happiness?

· Will religion and the spiritual life lead to happiness?

From these and many other questions, the reader will discover a pathway, a road and river that can and does lead to a life filled with human happiness — a world very, very different than the purposeless whirlwind presently encountered.

Editor’s note: The above excerpt was taken from Finding Happiness in a Complex World, available October 25 from Sophia Institute Press.

Photo by Sunguk Kim on Unsplash

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Dr. Charles P. Nemeth has been an educator for more than 40 years and has spent the vast majority of his professional life in the study and practice of law and justice. In addition, he has published over 50 textbooks and references across multiple editions and is a recognized expert on professional ethics and the justice system, private-sector justice and private security systems. In addition, Dr. Nemeth integrates practical and professional concepts with both classical and medieval thought especially the ethical and moral principles espoused by Thomas Aquinas, Cicero and Aristotle. Presently, Dr. Nemeth is Professor and Director of Criminal Justice—and Director of the Center for Criminal Justice, Law, and Ethics—at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio. Prior to this, he was Chair and Professor of Security, Fire and Emergency Management and Director of the Center of Private Security and Safety at John Jay College in New York City. At present Dr. Nemeth continues his association with John Jay College as Professor Emeritus. He has also served as Chief Editor to a peer reviewed journal The Homeland Security Review and is now Editor in Chief of Natural Law and Justice.

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