Experiencing sublime happiness makes a complete human being

Then president-elect Nelson Mandela sits next to his then wife, Winnie, during the inaugural sitting of SA's first democratic parliament in May 1994. / Philip LITTLETON / AFP photo / Getty Images
Then president-elect Nelson Mandela sits next to his then wife, Winnie, during the inaugural sitting of SA's first democratic parliament in May 1994. / Philip LITTLETON / AFP photo / Getty Images

Now that Mama Winnie is one with the African soil, it is time for we who continue to live to answer the question: Why do I live? In other words, what is the purpose of my life?

Few people have taken time to reflect on this fundamental question. Yet, the question applies to all of us. Wittingly or not, we all conduct our lives according to a vision that responds to the very same question: Why do I live?

Almost all people in the world think that they live for one of three reasons. There is a category of humans who answer the question by saying, "I live because I am not dead." For such people, no grand purpose directs life; you take each day as it comes, and you stop living the moment your body stops breathing - that's all.

They may not realise it, but those who think like that essentially see nothing different between we humans and animals.

No goat thinks that life has a purpose. Debating with people who do not differentiate themselves from animals would be total madness.

The second category of human beings comprises a vast portion of the world's population. These are people who believe that they exist for a religious purpose - meaning that they live to please a deity as a path to a blissful afterlife.

Anyone who argues with a religious person is an idiot. Questions of faith shall never be settled rationally. Rationality is an instrument of logic. The substance of faith is spiritual, and therefore necessarily metalogical. Everyone has a right to choose their faith. There should be no debate about it.

Where there must be debate is in the third category. These are people who embrace the age-old philosophical idea that the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness. This concept has attracted both rationalists and hedonists.

The most important thing in debating happiness as the purpose of life is to elaborate a more meaningful concept of happiness, to expose the mistakenness of including ecstasy as a feature of the sublime meaning of "the pursuit of happiness".

There are people who consume alcohol in a quest for happiness. Others sniff all sorts of drugs while pursuing happiness.

There are even those who cry tears of joy when their soccer team has won. What about the feeling you experienced the day your boss broke the good news of your salary increase? Is this what is meant by life being the pursuit of happiness?

The examples cited above are all products of specific biochemical stimulants that induce particular sensations. The visible signs of a person under the spell of these kinds of sensations would be a smile, laughter, dancing, and so on. To suggest that biochemically induced feelings of pleasantness should be conceived of as an integral part of a grand definition of life as a pursuit of happiness is to place the body above the mind. Is he who is drunk every day the happiest?

No one lives life for alcohol, or for soccer, or for sex. He who thinks this is a reasonable understanding of life as a pursuit of happiness has no elevated concept of life as a serious business.

If the biochemical, nay bodily dimension of life, is to be excluded in the "elevated" conception of life as the pursuit of happiness, what, then, is real happiness, and how are we to experience it - if not through the medium of our bodies? Is this not pure nonsense?

Last week eNCA flighted the documentary Winnie, in which Mama Winnie concluded by saying she was happy to see her ex-husband being sworn-in as president of a democratic SA. She felt that what she had been fighting for was accomplished. Such is true happiness!

We all know that Mama Winnie suffered a great deal under apartheid, but she persisted to fight. Even as her body was in pain, her mind derived happiness from the knowledge that she was fighting for her people. Pain can induce happiness.

The happiness that Mama Winnie experienced when she saw Nelson Mandela being sworn-in was deeper than that which is experienced by he whose soccer team has scored a goal.

Here is your question: Will you ever experience the sublime happiness that is larger than the intermittent sensations induced by biochemistry? In short, do you know how to be a complete human being?

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