WHAT'S FAITH GOT TO DO WITH IT?
It is not enough to be happy to have an excellent life. The point is to be happy while doing things that stretch our skills, that help us grow and fulfill our potential.(1)
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
What is "happiness?" For many religious believers, it is a state of perfection that can only be achieved in the afterlife, when they will receive eternal reward for their good deeds on Earth. More down-to-earth philosophers, like the English utilitarian Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), felt that happiness is indistinguishable from physical pleasure: acts that we enjoy should be maximized, while those that cause harm should be minimized. He even developed a "hedonic calculus" to rate activities on a scale from greater to lesser pleasure. Yet the person he most influenced, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), recognized the inadequacy of a system that focused primarily on physical gratifications, which are fleeting and quite often detrimental in the long run to one's well being. In Mill's famous words, "It is better to be Socrates unsatisfied than a fool satisfied." While ignorance may at times be blissful, it is nothing to be proud of. The intellectual pleasures provide longer-lasting benefits. For Mill, the highest good was to pursue a life of learning, and to apply what was learned to the betterment of the human condition.
In this regard, Mill was harkening back to what is still perhaps the most relevant discussion of "happiness": …