18 June 2012

The Possible Difference between Love and Peace



The final end of love is not only happiness but what happiness prepares for and sustains, and that is peace. Whereas all men seek happiness, it is nevertheless peace which is the final end and fruit of that state of quieted joy, the victory over melancholy. Peace and happiness, though apparently identical in form, are different in content. Happiness is smiles and exuberance and light, whereas peace is steadfastness, stability, quiet. There is something fragile with happiness. If we feel that it is elusive, that is because it is basically an emotion, one which by definition comes and goes, passes us by and hopefully stays a while longer--like the wind, warmth, the sun. Happiness is worked at as a goal to be accomplished by action and perseverance, an end that must be reached not without toil and trouble, a kind of work, a labor. Aristotle said it plainly that happiness is synonymous with the good. And a man, according to him, can only be called good by remaining to be good and virtuous consistently, regularly, habitually. In the same manner, since happiness is the delicate fruit that virtue has to grow and nourish patiently and with care, a man's happiness is also delicate, a babe, young. Whence these famous words:
One swallow does not make a summer, neither does one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.
Entirely happy? What could that look like? What does it feel, really?

We can no longer keep a smile as we can keep a frown. No matter how robust and lively our days can be we also have to sleep at nightfall. Such is the trouble called time. "One fine day" must surrender itself to the next, and thus the labor to be happy ensues and begins again. And since life has a way of evening things out, the whole drama begins again, the whole call to virtue and goodness, the whole toil and trouble. Entire happiness is perhaps toil and trouble.

That said, it is still possible to imagine a state where a person can have a composed relation with the work of happiness. We can imagine a person who is relaxed and not despairing or tired as he repeats over and again, daily, the work of happiness. Happiness need not remain at the end, ever far, but able to overflow, perhaps like the light at the end of the tunnel which makes me see my surroundings no matter how far I am from the end. We can imagine bearing the burdens of happiness with less difficulty if we have peace.

Peace is state of being whereas happiness is something I feel. This does not mean that peace can remain any longer than happiness; they both can come and go, to be sure. Peace however as a state of being can last longer than happiness because it covers a wider horizon than happiness does. Happiness is intentional. That is to say, happiness needs an object of happiness. I am happy because of something that makes me happy. Something provokes me, something makes me feel happy, or to be physical about it, something triggers the release of certain chemicals in my brain (serotonin, dopamine, etc.) that enables me to feel pleasure and joy. Like drug, the object of happiness heightens the pleasure ready to explode within me. This shows how happiness is felt within, experienced inside, and thus something felt by myself and myself alone. Yet like a drug, again, the effects disappear after a while, the body returns to its own balance after the violent intrusion, and the drugged man or the once happy man has to seek another object which may soon satisfy it.

In contrast to happiness, peace is a state I find myself in, and not an artificially produced state within me. Peace is a place while happiness is a passing period of time. As such, we may remain in peace while happiness passes us by every once in a while. Peace is a home, happiness is a guest. There can be no happiness without peace, while there can be peace without happiness, as the there can be no guests without a home while there can be a home without guests. And to push it (perhaps unnecessarily) further: peaceful people may have no need for happiness. Like the old and like lovers who are happy where they are and are in no need of surprises or gifts or visitors.   






2 comments

  1. I kept saying I was happy over something, but it was very fluctuant. Something kept bothering me. Now I get it.

    Sometimes you just need someone to say it for you explicitly. I needed this.

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  2. I forget who now but I remember an author (Goethe, perhaps) saying that what frightened him the most was being happy and fortunate for quite a long stretch of time. Because he worried about the time soon after when that happiness will be taken away from him or lost, and he would then be left in despair. Though perhaps that's going too far.

    Fare you well, friend.

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Maira Gall