Happiness and Friendship
In the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that having true friendship is a necessary part of a happy life. Everyone can relate to that in some measure. We are social animals, affected positively and negatively by those around us. Since happiness lies in fulfilling what we are, our happiest happiness is never dependent on us alone, but also on the happiness of those we love.
Those who understand this most keenly have a problem: happiness dependent on something else is difficult. When friends aren’t with us, we pine after them. The present, which should be the place of happiness, becomes the place where we merely survive, thinking of past moments with friends or relishing a future when we will be together again.
But the present should be the place of happiness, not only a place from which to remember and plan happiness.
The present is the time when good things happen. The present is the only time when things truly exist. It’s hard, especially when we’re sad or lonely, to understand that, but it’s true. Life is the mystery of happiness in the present.
Heaven, which is life in its fullness, will be the perfection of that eternal, present happiness. But we are called not to wait patiently for heaven but to taste it on earth. Saint Catherine of Siena said, “All the way to heaven is heaven.” Similarly, Saint Josemaria Escriva (whose golden statue is today’s featured image) said, “I am every day more convinced that happiness in Heaven is for those who know how to be happy on earth.” Both emphasize living and loving in the present. Both point to that as the way to heaven.
But then we have a problem. Happiness depends on being with a friend. We are supposed to be happy in the present, not just remembering the good times or planning for more good times. How can these be reconciled?
In his Ethics Aristotle’s search for happiness concludes that contemplation is man’s highest good. Contemplation is the perfect activity of reason by which we think about the highest things, the true, the good, and the beautiful. He believed, however, that a life of perfect contemplation, a life of perfect happiness, is too high for man.
For it is not in so far as he is man that he will live so, but in so far as something divine is present in him… But we must not follow those who advise us, being men, to think of human things, and, being mortal, of mortal things, but must, so far as we can, make ourselves immortal, and strain every nerve to live in accordance with the best thing in us; for even if it be small in bulk, much more does it in power and worth surpass everything.
Nicomachean Ethics, Book X, Section 7
I believe Christian’s have a special insight into how to do this. We believe that God, who is the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, came down to earth to make this divine life present in us. PRESENT. Right now. Always. Although He seemed to leave us at His Ascension, He said, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
Christians have the unique opportunity to contemplate God in everything we do. If we believe we are truly doing His Will, every moment is one of contemplation. Any time we feel trapped into doing something we would never do by choice, we must find a way to do it for love.
Friendship with God
God is the only friend who is there all day, every day. He is the only one who can share every task, every joy, and every ache. He is the only wholly reliable friend we have. If we order everything toward friendship with Him, then we will have the comfort of a friend every moment of our lives. We will never be abandoned. And the present will be a place of longing for our own perfection, but also a place of present happiness.
As we grow more perfect, we will be able to do this more perfectly. The Saints are those whom heaven touches here on earth. And we are called to be Saints.