Sorrows, suffering and loneliness are the great builders of character. The human being is never really great until his heart is broken.
-Manly P. Hall
It is a Buddhist saying that seeking happiness is the cause of unhappiness. For Buddhists walking the world wishing, pursuing sensations of pleasure or even clinging to those things that we believe make us happy – like marriage 😉 , money, success, etc. – ensures that we will suffer, because all these things are impermanent and, change, they will make what today makes us happy and gives pleasure tomorrow will cause us pain. Our happiness today is the seed of our suffering tomorrow.
Existentialist thinkers, on the other hand, would tell us that life is tragic. The condition of man in the world – death, illness, loneliness and others – places us in a situation of being thrown off, somehow fallen (without necessarily resorting to religious connotation). It is not surprising that man suffers, he finds himself in extremely precarious conditions in the world, although, at least, he is free (especially insofar as he is responsible for himself).
To this, we must add the modern pressure to be happy, to be productive and successful, as a categorical social imperative that is evidently linked to the economic paradigm of permanent growth. One must do something, which often requires consumption, to achieve shake and achieve the happiness that film, advertising and society, in general, tells us is our basic right (but that seems our obligation if we want to be accepted).
If this is the situation in which man finds himself, what can he do to avoid plunging into the deepest despair or nihilism? For Buddhism, there is a way to transcend the suffering that has to do with the training of the mind, with detachment and with attaining a contemplative wisdom that is capable of liberating oneself from all that is conditioned-extinguishing the desire that causes the wheel of samsara. Since ignorance is the root of suffering, it is wisdom that liberates. Perhaps closer to the Western mentality is the heroic assumption of tragic life, something that thinkers such as Nietzsche or Dostoyevsky have defended-and that, as we shall see, does not differ in substance but in method-but that we have in Dr Jordan Peterson an updated version, which synthesizes and extracts the relevant ideas of these authors for an increasingly less literate society. Life is tragic, being happy is something like a utopia (especially if you insist on being), but life makes sense.
Dostoevsky in his notes on his novel Crime and Punishment wrote: “Man is not born for happiness, man wins happiness, and this always through suffering”. It is not an absurd or masochistic suffering, but a suffering that is accepted -because it is the reality of existence- and carried with dignity, under the understanding that it makes sense. It makes sense because you accept a burden based on an end that is higher than your own personal desires. This is largely what love, compassion and faith do. Our actions make sense because they can help others and combat the evil, ignorance and even suffering that exists in the world. It’s not about looking for happiness, such a thing is flimsy, it’s about finding the meaning – and this is the best way, at the end of the day, to get as close as possible to happiness and make others happy. Kierkegaard has an understanding that I find useful and beautiful in this regard. Life becomes meaningful when the individual is elevated to the universal, subjecting his desires to the moral law, which represents the purpose of his existence. But the way in which the should be presented – the way in which the universal is presented – is in a singular and subjective way, so that it can transcend the moral law by which others are governed. The example of Kierkegaard is the sacrifice of Abraham, an act that breaks the moral law and, however, is deeply significant and moral. subjecting his desires to the moral law, which represents the purpose of his existence. But the way in which what ought to be the way in which the presentation is universal is a singular and subjective manner, so that can transcend the moral law by which others are governed occurs. Kierkegaard’s example is the sacrifice of Abraham, an act that breaks the moral law, however, it is deeply meaningful and moral. subjecting his desires to the moral law, which represents the purpose of his existence. But the way in which what ought to be the way in which the presentation is universal is a singular and subjective manner, so that can transcend the moral law by which others are governed occurs. Kierkegaard’s example is the sacrifice of Abraham, an act that breaks the moral law, however, it is deeply meaningful and moral.
Jordan Peterson explains why looking for happiness is a bad business:
It is okay to believe that the meaning of life is to be happy, but what happens when you are unhappy? Happiness is a great side effect. When it arrives, accept it with gratitude. But it is transient and unpredictable. It is not a goal that one should have – because it is not a goal. And if happiness is the purpose of life, what happens when you are unhappy? You are a failure. And maybe even a suicidal failure. Happiness is like a cotton candy. It just is not going to accomplish the task.
Peterson believes that what should be sought is meaning in life, which also means taking responsibility. Living a life most likely aligned with what we believe is true and good. That, on the other hand, can be a goal: telling the truth and trying to do the most good. To do this it is essential to stop doing those things that we know hurt our spirit and do those that we know will do us good but that cost us work, that scare us. As Nietzsche suggests, morality in a person who does not have a certain power-to act, to love, to destroy evil is a disguise in which cowardice is hidden. Peterson suggests, with Jung, that we must face and integrate our shadow, go to the depths where our fears and traumas are hidden, which are also the caves where the treasures lie.
On the other hand, Peterson believes that meaning is embedded in the depth of existence, not only psychological but also biological. “It is the deepest of the highest instincts,” he says. The body responds to meaning, so when it finds purpose and meaning it can cope with stress without collapsing – as the observations in Viktor Frankl’s concentration camps and the more recent work of scientists correlating eudaimonia with health suggests. Stress changes meaning when it is accepted as a voluntary challenge and not as a condemnation; and with only that change of meaning the body generates different hormones and neurotransmitters in a situation, to the point that significant stress does not usually deplete the immune system. When you find meaning in what you do, you stop thinking about how miserable life is (even because you are able to concentrate!), And even if you are sick you keep doing what you think you should do without it affecting you too much. It’s like a state of harmony, flow or synchronicity, which can best be compared to music: music can be sad or happy and so on, but it communicates, in any case, an order, a harmony, a structure based on certain principles. The meaning is felt in the body as a way of authentic existence and authenticity – like a suit that fits us to the measure, and that does not hide but reveals – makes us more, stronger and freer – there is an intuition that exists in all cultures: that truth liberates. The meaning or existential sense, believes Peterson, is, in fact, an alignment with the Logos of the ancient Greeks, that principle of intelligence and order in the cosmos, which for Christians became the same Word, in the force of love that redeems the universe. Christ, Buddha, We will be more ash will make sense; we will be dust more dust in love, said the poet, because before death only this is the antidote.
Heroism, epic, but also tragedy and romanticism – because “truth is beauty, beauty, truth” – in this existential way, they are predicated on assuming that if we tell the truth, if we move towards truth with the better of our abilities, that only already assures us the best of the results or possible destinations. Between the chaos and the incommensurable unknown, we can only walk if we light an internal light. It may be objected that “the truth”, especially in our postmodern relativist era, in the era of “post-truth”, in the era of religious extremism and secular fanaticism, is a diffuse, difficult and even dangerous concept. Certainly, there is nothing more difficult than finding the truth – and the one who thinks he already has it is probably very far from it – but the fact that it is difficult does not mean that we should not try, on the contrary. And it is dangerous because we can easily deceive ourselves – and we do it all the time – and we can commit atrocities from deception, but not taking the risk of seeking the truth and living according to what we believe is true is much more dangerous, because what is at stake is freedom, not the freedom to do what we want, but to free ourselves from evil, from ignorance and perhaps someday from suffering. On the other hand, if the truth does not exist, as some postmodern philosophers thought, and even more if you do not bet on the truth, then the world has no meaning. Do not look for happiness, look for the truth– something essentially heroic and uncomfortable – that is what Peterson proposes and to a large extent explains the enormous popularity that is reaping his thought, because in the post-truth era – something that coincides with the Kali-Yuga or the era of no-truth or ignorance in which we are according to Hinduism, and with the void left by the “Death of God” – there is a marked lack of this, of truth, of meaning, of spirituality. For Jung modern man was essentially a man in search of a soul. Keats said that this world was “the valley of the elaboration of the soul”, for that we were here, to elaborate a soul of the earth, to turn the lead of the suffering into the gold of the conscience. Hungry of the soul, in search of meaning, with the only truth as a weapon, so a man walks high in the world.