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There is a context of ever-present rightness and justice that I believe in. That happiness is always available, at every moment. Certainly we can agree that we turn away many opportunities for joy – that we are in fact afraid of them. Joy exists, and it undergirds life. This may well be a statement of fact.
Life is almost always worth living, and I say “almost” purely as an intellectual calculation. I myself have always felt life is worth living. It seems to be a great error to presume that someone else is not enjoying their life. Certainly, there’s no debate that most of the world’s population, not living in an advanced democracy with technological comforts, do enjoy life. They demonstrate this clearly, as any visitor to the Third World knows. Often, they’re happier than we are.
Joy seems to be inalienable from life. If life is relationship, and relationship brings joy, this is available to pretty much everyone. What greater joy could there be than in a fulfilling relationship, whether between man and woman, parent and child, worker and responsible employer, friend and friend, or caregiver and receiver of care?
The greatest good for the greatest number is a useful principle. To make the world work for the greatest number that can sustainably live on it is a worthy goal. In this commitment, we are willing to do what many are not: personal sacrifice. That means supporting the natural environment by taking personal action: giving up meat (since this is the single best way for an individual to reduce his or her generation of carbon), working to encourage the planting of street trees in the City (since this helps reduce polluting stormwater runoff), fighting to stop polluting industries and oil and gas drilling, responsibly recycling, and boycotting polluting companies and companies that waste energy and increase carbon outputs, or otherwise harm the environment, when there are good alternatives.
Personal action leads to pressing for governmental action, but we can’t wait for government to act. We must move this agenda forward.
Personal commitment and sacrifice leads to personal fulfillment and the creation of right relationships, which aren’t exploitative. It’s that personal commitment, to change, growth, and self-confrontation that creates happiness, and that allows us to give happiness to others, because we stop being so self-centered. We can’t give others what we lack ourselves, so we have to create happiness for ourselves first, through commitment and sacrifice. This has something to do with a comfortable lifestyle, but maybe less than we think. In a world where resources are becoming scarce, we will learn to stretch materials comforts, make do with less, and create more joy in relationships. We will learn not to presume what makes others happy.
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