Happiness is that single and glorious thing which is the very light and sun of the whole animated universe, and where she is not it were better that nothing should be. Without her wisdom is but a shadow, and virtue a name.
It is in the pursuit of happiness that the energies of man are put forth. It matters not that we are generally disappointed in the ultimate results of our endeavors. Earthly happiness is a phantom of which we hear much, but see little, whose promises are constantly given and constantly broken, but as constantly believed. She cheats us with the sound instead of the substance, and with the blossom instead of the fruit. Anticipation is her herald, but disappointment is her companion. In the ideal scene every thing is painted in bright colors. There are no drawbacks, no disappointments, in that picture, but in the reality they are sure to appear. The anticipation of a pleasure may have lasted for weeks in the mind, and have been dwelt on in all the endless variety of possibilities, while the reality lasts but a short time. Hence the feeling of disappointment ensues. Hope immediately rallies the powers. We turn to new plans, and begin again the round of anticipation, ending in disappointments.
Happiness is much like to-morrow—only one day from us, yet never arriving. It is, in a word, hope or anticipation. In this life we pursue it; in the future life we hope to overtake it. It is the experience of all that, having realized our hopes, of whatever nature they may be, we are not satisfied. And it is well for man that he is so constituted, since satisfaction would be a bar to future efforts. We at once form new plans, grander and more comprehensive in their scope; we renew the struggle, press forward to their accomplishment, finding pleasure in the pursuit, if not in the possession. Perhaps nothing more plainly shows the diversity of the human mind than the different methods employed in this pursuit. Some seek it in the acquisition of wealth; others, of power; others, of fame. Some, by plunging into society, endeavor, by a giddy round of pleasure, to catch the same evanescent shadow that others seek by a life of solitude. No class or race of people exist but that have some characteristic mode in which they trust to secure happiness. The savage seeks it in hunting and fishing, in barbarous warfare, or in the rude war dance. National peculiarities are strongly shown in their ideas of what constitutes happiness; the light-hearted nations of the sunny south differing in this respect from their more serious northern neighbors. To be happy is the summing up of all the ends and aims on earth. It is a noble desire, implanted in the human breast by the Creator for purposes known only to his wisdom.
We talk of wealth, fame, and power as undeniable sources of enjoyment; and limited fortune, obscurity, and insignificance as incompatible with felicity. This is an instance of the remarkable distinction between theoretic conclusions and experience. However brilliant in speculation wealth, fame, and power are found in possession impotent to confer happiness. However decried in prospect limited fortune, obscurity, and insignificance are, by experience, found most friendly to real and lasting pleasure. It is not this or that or the other peculiar mode of life, nor in any particulars of outward circumstances, nor in any definite kind of labor or duty, that we may positively expect happiness. If we do we shall be disappointed, for it is not in our power to have things just our way, or to control our outward life just as we would.
We live amid a multitude of influences we can not altogether control. Nor is it best we should. We must seek happiness in the right state of mind, in the legitimate labors, duties, and pleasures of life, and then we shall find what we seek, yet we may find it under very different circumstances from what we expected. It is much more equally divided than some of us imagine. One man may, possess most of the materials, but little of the thing; another may possess much of the thing, but few of the materials. In this particular view happiness has been compared to the manna in the desert—”he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack.” Therefore, to diminish envy, let us consider not what others possess, but what they enjoy.
We may look for happiness in one direction, but find it in another, and sometimes where we expect the least we may find the most, and where we look for the most we shall find the least. We are shortsighted, and fail to see the ends of things. A great deal of the misery of life comes from this disposition to have things our own way, as though we could not be happy under any circumstances except those we have framed to meet our own wants. Circumstances are not half so essential to our happiness as most people imagine. A cabin is often the seat of more true happiness than a palace. Kings may bid higher for happiness than their subjects, but it is more apt to fall to the lot of the private citizen than the monarch. She sends to the palace her equipage, her pomp, and her train, but she herself is traveling incognita to keep a private appointment with contentment, and to partake of a dinner of herbs in a cottage.
The disposition to make the best of life is what we want to make us happy. Those who are so willful and seemingly perverse about their outward circumstances are often intensely affected by the merest trifles. A little thing shadows their life for days. The want of some convenience, some personal gratification, some outward form or ornament will blight a day’s joy. They can often bear a great calamity better than a small disappointment, because they nerve themselves to meet the former, and yield to the latter without an effort to resist. Molehills are magnified into mountains, and in the shadow of these mountains they sit down and weep. The very things they ought to have sometimes come unasked, and because they are not ready for them they will not enjoy them, but rather make them the cause of misery. There is also a disposition in such minds to multiply their troubles as well as magnify them. They make troubles of many things which should really be regarded as privileges, opportunities for self-sacrifice, for culture, for improving effort. They make troubles of the ordinary allotments of life; its duties, charities, changes, unavoidable accidents, reverses, and experiences. This can be considered in no other light than morally wrong, for these common allotments and experiences were, beyond all question, ordained by infinite wisdom as a healthy discipline for the soul of man.
Some spend life determined to be vastly happy at some future time, but for the present put off all enjoyment even of passing pleasures, seemingly for fear lest all such present comfort detracts from the sum total of future enjoyments. They, indeed, acquire wealth or fame or the outward surroundings of happiness; but, alas! too often the palmy days of life are gone, and the acquisitions from which they fondly hoped to gather much of human happiness form but the stately surroundings of real and heart-felt wretchedness. Happiness, then, should be as a modest mansion, which we can inhabit while we have our health and vigor to enjoy it; not a fabric so vast and expensive that it has cost us the best part of our lives to build it, and which we can enjoy only when we have less occasion for a habitation than for a tomb.
Happiness is a mosaic composed of many small stones. Each taken apart and viewed singly may be of little value; but when all are grouped together, judiciously combined, and set they form a pleasing and graceful whole, a costly jewel. Trample not under foot, then, the little pleasures which a gracious Providence scatters in the daily path while in search after some great and exciting joy. Happiness, after all, is a state of the mind. It can not consist in things. It follows, thence that in the right discipline of the mind is the secret of true happiness. In vain do they talk of happiness who never subdued an impulse in obedience to a principle. He who never sacrificed a present to a future good, or a personal to a general one, can speak of happiness only as the blind do of colors.
The fountain of content must spring up in the mind, and he who seeks happiness by changing any thing but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the griefs which he seeks to remove. The trouble often is, we are too selfish, too unyielding in our arrangements for life’s best good. Because we can not find happiness in our own way we will not accept it in its appointed way, and so make ourselves miserable. Some excellent people are very unhappy from a kind of stubborn adherence to their settled convictions of just what they must have and what they must do to be happy. They lose sight of the fact that God rules above them, and a thousand influences work around them, partly, at least, beyond their control. They have not determined to accept life cheerfully in whatever form it may come, and seek for good under all circumstances.
We must seek for happiness in heaven-appointed ways, in study, duty, labor, exalted pleasures, with a constant effort to find it. We must seek it in domestic and business life, in the relations we hold to our fellow-men, and in the daily opportunities afforded us for discipline and self-sacrifice. If, then, you would be happy, possessing at least that measure of happiness which is vouchsafed to mortals, we must intelligently seek happiness, not by way of impulse, not seeking selfishly our own good, but with a forgetfulness of self doing all the good we can, and with a thorough consecration of soul to the good of what we seek.
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