In Selfish Pursuit Essay

Pursuit of Happiness (Siddhartha Essay)

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The Pursuit of Happiness Throughout Herman Hesse’s novel, Siddhartha, Siddhartha defines his own happiness and Siddhartha does not let anything beside himself dictate his happiness. Throughout his journeys, Siddhartha becomes enlightened because of the way he can so easily find happiness. Siddhartha proves this through his life decisions that go against the grain of “normal” decision making. Siddhartha throws ideas of money out the window if it is not what is going to make him happy. After a long journey, Siddhartha is finally able to find his happiness.

Everybody is always scrambling for happiness; however, there are only few who can actually obtain happiness. The story begins with the background of Siddhartha: son of a Brahmin, lots of friends, plenty of money and advantages in life. Yet, Siddhartha decides he wants to become a Samana. At this point in the story, Siddhartha is willing to do anything to get his father’s permission to become a Samana. Once he earns his father’s blessing, Siddhartha becomes a Samana and leaves behind all the advantages he had in life. This shows that Siddhartha is not ruled by material things.

Siddhartha shows that making decisions solely on what will make him happy is the true way to find happiness. With no regard for money or pleasing others, many would call Siddhartha selfish; however, any happy person must be selfish because if a person is not fulfilling his or her needs then he or she is not truly happy. On the other side, if someone is fulfilling his or her needs, he or she is, in some ways, selfish. In chapter eight, Siddhartha raves and is elated over a simple night’s sleep: “What a wonderful sleep it had been! Never had sleep so refreshed him, so renewed him, so rejuvenated him!

Perhaps he had really died, perhaps he had been drowned and was reborn in another form. No, he recognized himself, he recognized his hands and feet, the place where he lay and the Self in his breast, Siddhartha, self-willed, individualistic. But this Siddhartha was somewhat changed, renewed. He had slept wonderfully. He was remarkably awake, happy and curious” (91). This shows that Siddhartha enjoys the simple things in life and he is happy. By the end of his life, Siddhartha is happy and enlightened; however, he is not unwaveringly happy throughout his life.

Siddhartha goes through depression and even thoughts of suicide. After leaving his wife and child –Who once were what made him happy- Siddhartha contemplates suicide but after being found by the river, Siddhartha realizes that life is worth living. He later discovers the beauty of depression: “’Things are going downhill with you! ’ he said to himself, and laughed about it, and as he was saying it, he happened to glance at the river, and he also saw the river going downhill, always moving on downhill, and singing and being happy through it all. He liked this well, kindly he smiled at the river.

Was this not the river in which he had intended to drown himself, in past times, a hundred years ago, or had he dreamed this? ” (96). Siddhartha goes from rich to poor to rich again to poor again, yet through almost every change in his life, Siddhartha remains happy. An unknowingly eerie real life comparison to Siddhartha is former NFL running back: Ricky Williams. Like Siddhartha, Ricky Williams went through life and did whatever made him happy and did not let outside influences make decisions for him since he simply did whatever made him the happiest.

Williams, like Siddhartha, started his journey as a young man with many advantages. Being a superstar athlete, Williams received a full ride scholarship to the University of Texas. After three years of being the big man on campus, Williams entered the NFL draft in 1999 and was selected fifth overall by the New Orleans Saints. After three successful seasons with the Saints, Williams was traded to the Miami Dolphins. After testing positive for a couple of drug tests, Williams was faced with a short suspension.

However, Ricky Williams shocked the world by announcing his retirement from football in the prime of his career, similar to Siddhartha’s choice to embark on Samana life. Williams was finding himself lost in superstardom and was no longer enjoying the game he so dearly loved. The Miami Dolphins demanded money back off of Williams’ contract claiming that he had not held up his end of the bargain. Williams did not care about the money though. In the next year Williams downgraded to a modest house and lived with his long time girlfriend.

Williams even spent time living off the grid in Australia and struggled with diagnosed clinical depression problems. After a one-year sabbatical from the game, Williams returned to his homeland of happiness and played organized football for the next six years and made more money but only because he could; Williams could have played football for free because it was his true passion. This part in Williams’ life is similar to Siddhartha’s time spent with Kamala in the way that Siddhartha did become a wealthy business man but only because that was what made him happy.

Siddhartha makes a similar decision as Williams when he says, “He could have remained much longer with Kamaswami, made and squandered money, fed his body and neglected his soul; he could have dwelt for a long time yet in that soft, well upholstered hell, if this had not happened: the moment of complete hopelessness and despair and the tense moment when he had bent over the flowing water, ready to commit suicide. This despair, this extreme nausea which he had experienced had not overpowered him.

The bird, the clear spring and voice within him was still alive –that was why he rejoiced, that was why he laughed, that was why his face was radiant under his gray hair” (98). The point of the comparison is that even people who seem to have it all may be lacking happiness, which to Siddhartha and Ricky Williams is the most important aspect of life. Williams’ life took him all sorts of ways and through years of trying to find inner peace he was able to be a happy man just like Siddhartha. As Siddhartha says in chapter nine, “my path had once led me from his hut to a new life which is now old and dead” (101).

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Siddhartha’s happiness is a vital theme throughout Hermann Hesse’s novel. Rightfully so, Hesse shows happiness as one of the main goals of life. Similarly to Siddhartha, Ricky Williams also displays happiness through almost all walks of life and they both prove that one must suffer and do some searching before finding his or her true happiness. Through disregard of others’ opinions and society’s view of happiness is the only way to find oneself and the only way that Siddhartha could find himself and reach enlightenment.

Author: Brandon Johnson

in Siddhartha

Pursuit of Happiness (Siddhartha Essay)

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“The pursuit of happiness:” In the Declaration of Independence, this phrase is connected with “life and liberty” as the three important rights “endowed” by the “Creator” as a “self-evident” truth.  What exactly did Jefferson mean by “happiness?”  How has Postmodern culture re-defined this important word?

 

  • First a comment on what “happiness” meant in the 18th century.  Typically in this century, when human rights were enumerated, life, liberty and property were listed as paramount.  But Jefferson substituted the pursuit of happiness for property.  Why did he do that?  In one sense, we will never know for certain.  However, there is little doubt that 18th century philosophers focused on happiness as defined by Aristotle in the 4th century B.C.  Greece.  For Aristotle happiness (eudaimonia in Greek) was the ultimate good, worth seeking for its own sake.  It evoked virtue, good conduct and generous citizenship.  Without question, this is how Jefferson was using happiness.  Other key Founders agreed with Jefferson:  James Wilson of Pennsylvania argued that “happiness of the society is the first law of government.”  John Adams contended that “happiness of society is the end of government.”  [For this point about Jefferson see John Meacham’s essay in Time, 8 July 2013, p. 40).  For our Founders, then, the pursuit of happiness was the pursuit of the good of the whole, because the good of the whole was central to the genuine well-being of the individual.  For them, happiness was not a self-centered, selfish pursuit of personal gratification and self-indulgence; it was the exact opposite.  Another way of putting this:  Happiness, as they defined it, was inextricably linked to freedom and the survival of the Republic.  It was equated with the pursuit of civic responsibility, which was always to be connected to the pursuit of personal goals and ambition.  In our Postmodern culture, the link between the two has been severed.

 

  • Second, what is the role of faith in this understanding of “happiness?”  In a new book entitled A Free People’s Suicide, Os Guinness argues that this nation’s Founders linked three key components.  For them, this linkage was central to preserving the freedom for which they had fought so hard.  In what Guinness calls the “golden triangle,” the Founders argued that freedom requires virtue (one of those central words connected to how they understood happiness); leg one.  Virtue requires faith; leg two.  Faith requires freedom; leg three.  “Freedom requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom—ad infinitum, a recycling triangle, a brilliant, daring suggestion as to how freedom can be sustained.”  Another way of saying this is that without faith, there is no basis for virtue, no reason for accepting their definition of happiness.  Without faith, there is no reason for not pursuing a life of utter selfishness and self-indulgence.  If Guinness is correct, then America’s pursuit of personal autonomy is a serious threat to freedom.  If faith is no longer a vital part of a person’s life, then there is no basis for virtue (again, one of those key 18th century words connected to happiness).  And if there is no basis for virtue, then freedom is indeed threatened.  In fact, without faith there is no real basis for human dignity in the first place.  The dignity, value and worth of each individual are certainly the reason why we as a nation embraced freedom in the first place.  As historians have shown, the basis for the abolition of slavery, the enfranchisement of blacks and women, and the end of child labor were all rooted in revivalist Christianity.  Faith provided the foundation for human dignity, which produced significant social change.  Virtue, faith and freedom are indeed linked.

 

  • Third, permit me to cite two examples of how happiness is being redefined in America, which in turn is undermining virtue and threatening the survival of freedom.  Both illustrate that without faith and virtue, freedom becomes autonomy and the pursuit of self-gratification.

1. Recently Time magazine published as its feature story, “The Childfree Life: When having it all means not having children.”  The article centered on this statistic: One in five American women ends her childbearing years without maternity.  As columnist Kathleen Parker has observed, the key term is “childfree,” not childless.  Childfree communicates personal freedom, autonomy and self-gratification.  Parker concludes, “The pleasure principle seems to be gaining on the procreative impulse.”  The focus here is not on those women (or couples) who are infertile and cannot have children.  The focus is on those women (and couples) who choose not to have children.  Faith explains to us that God created the institution of marriage and stipulated that a central aspect of marriage is procreation.  In addition, having children is one of the most powerful antidotes to a selfish and self-centered life.  Parker also observes what sociologists and psychologists, let alone theologians, have been saying for decades—“Putting someone else’s interests above one’s own is the alpha and omega of parenthood.”  Without meaning to be condescending or glib, choosing a life that is “childfree” is an example of the re-definition of “happiness” in the American Republic.

2. During the recent MTV Video Music Awards ceremony, Miley Cyrus gave one of the most disgusting performances ever seen on television.  Apparently no longer desiring to be viewed as Hannah Montana of Disney fame, Cyrus dressed in what gave all appearances as being her underwear and “danced” in a way that could only be defined as obscene.  With obvious sexual intent, Cyrus used her tongue countless times, while she utilized a foam finger to “stimulate” her dancing partner, the singer Robin Thicke.  Throughout the performance, Cyrus simulated other sexual acts with Thicke.  In thinking about this sordid performance, it is important to remember that the vast number of viewers were the teenagers of America.  This is the culture we are now providing for our children.  Parker writes:  “The impulse to replicate animal behavior—called ‘twerking’ . . .—is now mainstream entertainment.  So inured have we become to grotesque behavior that even a congressman’s sexting expeditions, were, at least initially, blithely disregarded as errors in judgment.  The notion of community standards, meanwhile, has become quaintly irrelevant . . . And sex in the hands of a Cyrus-gone-wild has all the appeal of rutting season at the zoo.”  Our culture has now defined freedom as “all things are permissible.”  There apparently are no boundaries, no lines, and no barriers.  Happiness to Miley Cyrus (and to MTV) is the simulation-of-sex-as-entertainment—and both will defend to the hilt their right to pursue this definition of happiness.

 

The Founders of this nation connected virtue, faith and freedom.  The American culture of the 21st century has severed all those connections.  The pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of personal autonomy with few, if any, standards.  Virtue has no meaning anymore.  And if virtue is meaningless, then so is freedom.

 

See “The Happiness of Pursuit” in Time (8-15 July 2013), pp. 26-45; World (29 June 2013), pp. 37-38; Kathleen Parker www.washingtonpost.com (12 and 28 August 2013). PRINT PDF

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