Applying Levels of Happiness to Key Cultural Concepts
In last week’s
column I provided an introduction to Fr. Robert
Spitzer’s Life Principles, which are based upon
Aristotle’s four levels of happiness. Fr. Spitzer
explains the Life Principles in his book Healing the Culture: A Commonsense Philosophy of
Happiness, Freedom, and the Life Issues.
Happiness level one is focused on "physical
pleasure and possession". Happiness level two is based upon
"ego-gratification" and personal success. Happiness level three focuses on
"commitment and contribution to others" as well as giving and receiving
love. Happiness level four comes from "letting God direct our desires toward
These levels are hierarchical in the sense that a
person may be willing to sacrifice a lower level of happiness for a higher
one. For example, sacrificing food (level one) and enduring some displeasure
from exercising in order to lose weight or improve one’s physical health
After establishing this foundation for the Life
Principles, Fr. Spitzer applies the four levels of happiness to several key
cultural concepts such as defining personhood, inalienable rights, freedom,
ethics, quality of life, success and suffering. I’ll focus here on
personhood and suffering.
The following quotes are taken from a series of
articles by Camille Pauley and Marie Harkins found on the Healing the
Culture website: www.healingtheculture.com.
If level one happiness is our focus in life, we
will tend to define the human person as a "physical, material being who is
meant to enjoy pleasure and avoid pain." Therefore, "if someone does not
look a certain way, or lacks certain physical function, or cannot experience
certain pleasures, I may become convinced that he or she is not a person."
Likewise, a level one view of suffering would
conclude that suffering is meaningless and to be avoided at all costs,
including recourse to euthanasia and assisted suicide to end suffering.
If level two happiness is our focus in life, we
may conclude that to be a person, one must be "independent, accomplished,
successful, powerful, in control, admired, and popular." Level two also
"leads us to view suffering as a setback. After all, if I can no longer run
the fastest mile on the track team, get the highest grades, or outpace my
colleagues…I will begin to believe that my life (and my suffering) is
If level three happiness is what drives us, we
"would probably not exclude any human being from personhood" but would not
have "the most complete definition of what it means to be a human person."
At this level "we risk convincing ourselves that compassion toward someone
who is suffering means to take that person’s life into our own hands and to
end the suffering by doing away with the person."
A level three view of suffering is "able to
recognize that even in the midst of terrible pain, great good can emerge."
Suffering can provide an "opportunity for great growth—growth in wisdom,
love, forgiveness, concern for others, compassion, leadership, and
A level four view of personhood would conclude
that since "all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and
therefore created for His unconditional love, all human beings are human
persons. A Level 4 definition of personhood, then, defines one’s end by the
eternal destiny for which each of us was created."
Likewise, from "a Level 4 view of life, suffering
obtains even greater meaning. "When offered to God in humble trust, our
human suffering can be an incredible agent of grace and holiness for
ourselves and for the world.
"Level 4 allows us to trust that even in our deepest pain, even when we
cannot see it, God can bring about a good that we never thought possible.
Such a perception allows us to look to Him with confidence, to surrender
ourselves to His perfect wisdom, and to declare with true courage: ‘Thy will