In my research with regards to spirituality and health, I came across a very interesting article by Fr. Robert Spitzer of the Magis Center regarding happiness. He describes 4 levels of happiness that I want to touch upon because I believe it is critical, especially in this day and age, to understand how we can obtain ultimate happiness and why it’s good for our health. The 4 levels described are as follows:
- Immediate (Personal) Happiness – Doing things solely for instant gratification, no regard for anyone, selfish, materialistic
- Ego/Comparative Happiness – Deriving short term gratification from comparing to one another, gaining advantages over other people
- Contributive Happiness – Doing good for others, selflessness, empathy, sense of love, community, goodness (long term gratification)
- Transcendent Happiness – Ultimate and perfect love, truth, goodness, beauty and being that is eternal in nature
Everyone wants to be happy, but often they don’t find ultimate happiness because they get stuck in levels 1 and 2. It’s so easy to get caught up in what other people are saying/doing, life’s guilty pleasures, money, sex, substances that alter one’s reality, and instant gratification. Just think about – you saved up all of that money, finally bought that new shiny toy and while it was awesome at first, the feeling eventually faded away and you moved on to the next shiny toy. Happens to all of us.
Our environments, social media, news outlets cause us to become self-conscious about the way we look, feel, and present ourselves to the world. This sometimes forces us to do whatever it takes to be better than those around us, which gives us short term pleasure. It is true especially in today’s society, where the notion that everyone is beautiful and special in their own way has diminished drastically. Societal stressors push us to quick, materialistic fixes that hurt our bodies and wellbeing, and ultimately diminish, forcing us to find another quick fix. The repetitive cycle is why you hear so many stories in the of celebrities, corporate executives, “successful” people in terms of financial and societal status eventually falling on hard times. Their materialistic and ego centric sources of happiness are fleeting, and in fact, not true sources of fulfillment.
If you think about it, these different levels really make sense. Even though we are naturally going to do things for instant gratification and compete with one another (and let’s be honest, there’s nothing wrong with that in moderation!), we should strive to find happiness in the elements described in levels 3 and 4. What materialistic items, instant pleasures or comparative states provide eternal/long lasting elements we humans innately desire?
We’ve all met or heard about those people who have all of the money in the world and everything they could possibly imagine, yet are miserable or unfulfilled. I believe each and every one of us have something ingrained on our souls that yearns for transcendence – we ultimately desire perfect love, perfect beauty, absolute truth, and a connection with a higher power beyond ourselves. The metaphysical practices stressed in this website can lead to just that kind of happiness.
A great way to get to level 4 is to spend the majority of the time in level 3: giving to others, building meaningful relationships, community engagement, selflessness. Science shows many health benefits of pursuing contributive and transcendent happiness: lower blood pressure, reduced cortisol/stress, better pain management, a longer life span. When we pray, meditate, practice mindfulness, give to others and connect with one another in a deep way, for example, we not only improve our physical health, but also journey towards ultimate happiness. I personally believe that perfect love, beauty, truth and ultimate fulfillment can only come from God because of God’s divine nature and being the source for those elements.
Taking acting towards building a relationship with God, as well as one another, is the first place to start. Living a life of virtue, pursuing perfect love and goodness is the key. When you can utilize your God given attributes to significantly impact another life so much so that they impact others lovingly in return (as well as you!), you will begin to realize ultimate happiness.
There is nothing wrong with that fact that materialistic items often make us feel good, but we must be careful not to be consumed by them. When we set our sights on connecting with people in meaningful ways, helping to make the world a better place, and connecting with God, we put ourselves in a better position to obtain the highest level of happiness possible. Our health can dramatically improve through that state as well.
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