These types of questions are often existential, touching us at core of our being, our soul. “What is moral happiness,” is that type of question. Likely that wasn’t the way we heard it in our heads, as the issues that prompted the question in the first place being to surface in our minds.
While you have likely dealt with the consequences, this is maybe the first time you’ve heard the term moral happiness, so what does it mean?
Moral happiness is how allowing personal happiness to be affected by the happiness of those who you are closest too. This is compassion and empathy. Ken Wert, who coined this term, defined it this way:
“Moral happiness is a vulnerable and unguarded brand of happiness that’s open to influence by moral considerations.”
For example, the happiness of your love ones affects yours because you love each other. You want each want the other to be happy.
Knowing that real happiness comes from within, a person practicing moral happiness chooses to connect their response to those they care about.
Ken goes on to share with us the characteristics that make up moral happiness. Here’s Ken to masterfully explain them to us:
1. Have empathy even if it means feeling the pain others feel
Empathy in some respects is a prerequisite to compassion. But empathy is also a trait that can rob happiness of some of its luster. Empathy allows us to connect with others, to feel what they feel, to step into their shoes. It’s a vital characteristic of a moral, feeling, loving people.
As we open our hearts to others in empathy, we also open our hearts to their pain. If we feel for the plight of real people truly suffering, we suffer to some degree right alongside them.
But to squelch empathy for the sake of personal happiness is to diminish our humanity. While it’s true that we shouldn’t go around incapacitated by grief for the sorrow and suffering of the world, to close our hearts entirely to it in a self-concerned rejection of anything painful is an emotional/moral trade-off with a price too high to pay.
Although empathy can compromise our day-to-day feelings of happiness, there is an inner voice that calls on us to cultivate the character trait nonetheless.
2. Be informed about important events even if it makes you feel bad
It’s much easier to feel consistently happy when we stay locked up and cloistered in our own secluded worlds of optimistic positivity. When we’re uninformed about world events, about wars and poverty and oppression, it’s much easier to remain safe and sound and untouched in our happy bubble.
But there is a moral downside to self-contained happiness. When we know little of the world, we can do little to improve it.
Happiness by virtue of hiding from the realities of a sometimes sad world is a superficial and immature kind of happiness. It is happiness by self-imposed ignorance. It’s one that also produces more suffering (or at least prevents less of it) because there are fewer informed people working to end it.
There’s nothing happy about civil wars or acts of oppression or brutality against women or violence against children or attacks on those of the “wrong” faith or ideology or gene pool. But knowing what can be done to help and voting for those who will matters greatly.
So being informed can certainly place a dimmer on our daily experience of happiness. Get informed on the important (albeit sometimes painful) issues of the day anyway.
3. Allow guilt in if it keeps you honest, kind and forgiving
Guilt is a frequent thief of happiness. If we could do away with the little bugger, we could sail through life doing just about whatever we wanted to do, whenever we wanted to do it, with whomever we wanted it done.
Of course guilt is lousy when it wrongly or over enthusiastically self-condemns. But when it’s doing what it’s meant to do, it functions as a signal warning us when we falter from the moral path. It reminds and corrects and guides and inspires us to higher ground. Still, guilt just doesn’t feel very good. It feels downright guilty as a matter of fact.
Guilt can therefore compromise immediate feelings of inner peace and joy. But at the same time, a guilt-free life tends to produce fewer decent people.
We have all experienced moments when we felt bad about the way we talked to someone or treated them or talked behind their backs. Our conscience pinched a bit until we made the proper amends. That was the language of guilt inspiring a course correction.
Happiness can’t be had short of character. Guilt is an internal warning bell that rings whenever we compromise our character. To do away with the one is to risk the other two. Continue reading to discover the other characteristics…
The paradigm of moral happiness is one in which there are times when “doing the right thing” is not necessarily congruent with experiencing genuine happiness in the present moment.
However it is congruent with leading a happy life; in others words it’s in alignment the big picture happiness.
What is moral happiness? As Ken expresses it, “Moral happiness is happiness tempered by moral considerations. This is the joy and bliss that of all the saints, seers and spiritual teachers profess.
What is moral happiness? It is happiness shared, even if in this moment it is not so happy.