Finding True Happiness
"I cannot always control what goes on outside, but I can always control what goes on inside." - Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
What is happiness? Can money and fame bring you happiness? Are others responsible for your happiness?
Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (“Boethius”) was born in Rome in about 475 A.D. Under extreme circumstances, he considered such questions related to happiness; and shared his journey and astounding revelations.
Boethius was born into a privileged and fortunate life, was raised in the household of one of the richest and most respected aristocrats of the time and was well educated. He became one of the great intellects of his time and an eminent public figure. He had a loving family and the luxury of leisure time in which he pursued academic interests. One of his projects was to translate and interpret all the works of both Plato and Aristotle with the objective of showing the ways in which these two Greek philosophers agreed with each other. He never completed this particular project because the circumstances of his charmed life took a great turn when he was … sentenced to death by torture.
During the course of events, that included Boethius defending a fellow Official from an accusation of treason, Boethius himself was charged with treason and sent to prison. During the prison sentence he was treated badly and tortured perhaps daily. While there, with his life in ruins and awaiting his death, Boethius turned to his knowledge and love of philosophy for comfort and wrote the book, The Consolation of Philosophy. After about a year's time, during which the work was completed, he was painfully executed (in about 524 A.D.).
While suffering in prison, rather than wallow in self-pity or rage in anger, Boethius used his experience to reflect upon, among other things, the nature of true happiness.
The story consists of a dialogue between a hopeless prisoner (Boethius), confused and dejected by his sudden bad fortune, sitting in his prison-cell awaiting execution, and a lady who personifies the subject of philosophy. Lady Philosophy consoles him but she does not console him with sympathy. Rather, she presents reasoned arguments that he has no good reason to complain because; true happiness can never be lost. Ultimate happiness is found in love and goodness.
The story uses Boethius’ experience of a former good life compared to a current wretched life to show that fortune is a changeable illusion. It illustrates how due to this instability of fortune, it cannot provide real happiness. This point is taken even further when it is explained that because fortune is changeable, one must be concerned with losing what one has and this continuous fear does not allow one to be happy. This is so very true. We fear loss. We fear loss of relationships, loss of health, loss of material objects, loss of status and so on. When we feed this fear emotion, we do not fully enjoy what we have. Consider this: fear of loss is an illogical state of being because while we are not enjoying what we have, we may as well not have it.
Lady Philosophy tells Boethius that it is only a person’s attitude that makes things appear wretched. To the person that has a calm mind and a positive attitude, things will not appear wretched. She goes on to scold because people look for their happiness externally, yet it lies within them. If one values nothing more highly than his or her own self and if they are in control of themselves; they will possess something of true value which fortune can never take away. Therefore, true happiness is not achieved by outward conditions because true happiness is found within.
The ending to Boethius' real story is not what we would call a “happy” ending; but Boethius' experiences and shared wisdom provide valuable insights into the meaning of happiness. Can money and fame bring you happiness? Are others responsible for your happiness? No, true happiness is found within.