Meaning and Happiness

I have been waiting to see the discussion between Jordan Peterson and Jonathan Pageau.  Based on Peterson’s comments and reactions, I suspect Peterson has been waiting for this discussion also.  Peterson is clearly struggling with this line he is trying to walk – the fine line between pagan and Christian.

I am only about half-way through it, but I found the following very valuable, and perfectly in line with thoughts that I have been working through.  Following are Peterson’s comments.  I will thereafter add a couple of thoughts:

It isn’t obvious to me that anyone wants to live a meaningless existence.  I don’t think you can live a meaningless existence without becoming corrupted, because the pain of existence will corrupt you without a saving meaning.

And it also seems to me that you can sell the story that meaning is to be found in responsibility.  When I have tried to sell that story to myself, I seem to buy it and when I have tried to communicate it to other people it renders them silent – large crowds of people silent.

And that’s strange, because I am not sure why that is.  It’s perhaps because the connection between responsibility and meaning have never been made that explicitly somehow, because meaning gets contaminated with happiness or something like that [here Pageau lets out a chuckle] but it’s to be found in responsibility.  But there isn’t any responsibility that’s more compelling than trying to aid things in the manifestation of their divine form.

That should be an adventure that could be sold.  And I don’t know why the church can’t do it.  I don’t understand that, because it seems to me that that’s something I have done, at least in part.  And that accounts for the strange popularity of the Biblical lectures in particular.

And I do believe that the right striving is to attempt with all your heart to encourage things to develop toward that divine goal – like what else would you possibly do, once you think that through?  You are always aiming at something that’s better, or you wouldn’t be aiming.  You’re always moving toward something that’s better or you wouldn’t be moving.  So why wouldn’t you move towards the greatest good.

First, on the point of meaning and happiness.  Meaning is to be found in happiness, but not the superficial understanding of that term today.  The Latin is beatitudo, often translated as happiness, but better translated as fulfilment, and this through other-regarding action.  If this definition doesn’t fit Peterson’s prescription, I will eat a shoe.

Pageau chuckles at the idea of meaning to be found in happiness.  But this must be only because he isn’t aware of the depth of the word “happiness.”  If he understood it as other-regarding action, he wouldn’t chuckle.

Second, Peterson wonders why the church can’t or isn’t selling the message that Peterson found so fruitful.  We take action to move toward something better, or we wouldn’t bother taking action.  And if that’s the case, why wouldn’t you aim for that which is best – the greatest good.

Earlier in the discussion, the two of them spoke of Jesus Christ as (at minimum) the archetype of that greatest good.  Jesus offered the greatest commandment, and the second just like it.  Both involved love: other-regarding action.  Here is to be found meaning…and happiness.

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.

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