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In Pursuit of Happiness

By       Message Carma Keats     Permalink
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People see what they want to see . . . it's all done with mirrors.  "Reflective consciousness" is defined by at least two factors:  (1) that any individual is aware of only what they are capable of perceiving due to "doors of perception," which are unconscious sensory limitations and cognitive limits; and (2) that an individual's ego can actively block out information that does not support their chosen worldview.  So someone can be actively blind, without awareness of what they are missing.  Limits on awareness show who they are; in a way, a person is more defined by what they do not see than by what they do know.  

I was recently asked, "Do you feel good about yourself when you help others?"  Yes, naturally, I do.  But to think that would be my only possible motivation for altruism shows me the person seeing it that way has the deep soul sickness of cynicism or in the worst case scenario, they have within themselves a ready justification or rationale not to give to others, based on egocentric selfishness.  

John B. Robinson opines, "The most profound egoist may be the most complete altruist; but he knows that his altruism is, at the bottom, nothing but self-indulgence."  The hypothetical egoist Robinson refers to has enough self knowledge to recognize his own duplicity.  He seeks power through the dependence and perhaps the resultant pathetic gratitude of others, or on the reflected glory of the assumption that others see him as a "good person," and enjoys his own private joke that underneath, he really doesn't care about the other person.  What effect would that private joke have on his sense of integrity and self esteem?  "It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves and it is not possible to find it elsewhere," says Agnes Reppelier.  

This is a cynical view of altruism but some people see altruism as the highest form of hedonism.  People become sated with superficial pleasure-seeking when they understand it leads to an endless spiral of ever-increasing desires, coalescing from mirage-like visions that change but are always captioned "then I'll be happy."  After every goal is met, mirages of future happiness drive a driven ego on toward greater accomplishments, acquisition and material fulfillment.  If one sincerely directs their free will and energy toward finding true and lasting happiness, and observes the results, they will probably decide to relinquish self-centeredness and practice altruistic behavior instead. 

"Happiness is a by-product of an effort to make someone else happy," notes Gretta Brooker Palmer.  It's not something one can approach or purchase directly, like a new acquisition or title.  In the process of losing one's selfish focus by paying attention to others, happiness comes as a side effect.  

But is an altruistic act negated if someone also gains on a personal egotistical level?  Not at all.  If humans were capable of absolutely pure intent and motivation, it might be so, but humans can have many levels of motivation operating simultaneously, just as there are many levels of the brain operating simultaneously.  A person, operating in an altruistic manner through the prompting of their ideals could also register, on an egotistical level, side effects beneficial to their selfish narcissistic self-image. 

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Looking good as a "do-gooder" in other people's can be compared to a money reward.  If that's what someone is seeking, they'll find their personal gain fleeting because it depends on the presence of "the other" person praising them.  The long term effect on an individual's soul of genuine altruism leads to immediate happiness and is believed by many to persist even beyond the death of the physical body into the realms of eternity.  

Once I saw through a glass darkly.  When I stopped judging my Mother for being a do-gooder and getting accolades from her compatriots, I felt I'd gone from a childish world of blacks and whites into an adult world of shades of gray and degrees of light.  Out of a world of people rushing to shop,  showing off and bragging, she was one of the few people that would give her precious time to visit the ill or elderly, bring solace to their suffering, and act in a way that benefited them more than it did her. So I no longer begrudged her the occasional gleam in her eye when she looked good as a do-gooder.  Her ego had earned its reward, and her soul profited beyond measure. 

Citation for quotes: John B. Robinson quotes:click here Gretta Brooker Palmer, Agnes Reppelier quotes:click here

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Carma Keats was born and raised fresh in the frosty north and now lives in foggy San Francisco.

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