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The Problem with Pleasure – Part 2

I ended last week’s blog with these words:

The main thrust of too many lives is an over-emphasis on feeling good than living wisely. In the process, a life of character is often abandoned for the pursuit of self-gratification. The result is a life full of thrills and good feelings, but eventually it is accompanied by a host of destructive consequences. Yet people will continue to make that trade-off and then complain bitterly about the price they have to pay.

What most people don’t realize is that there is another approach to happiness that is counterintuitive. It is the path of virtue. It is tying happiness to higher things, like God, character, and the right ordering of the souls. Happiness is thus a reward or by-product of living well and living wisely.

Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, where you find those famous words guaranteeing to all citizens; “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” He was later asked about his views on happiness and replied, “Happiness is the aim of life, but virtue is the foundation of happiness.”

Ben Franklin believed, “Virtue and happiness are mother and daughter.”

In his trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, J.R. Tolkien once shared what he was trying to teach and emphasize in the three books:

The need for people to have character and virtue so to live in a complex and confusing world. Happiness will not be found unless people know how to rise to the moral challenges around them.

It seems that people today are more interested in the fun and pleasure they are experiencing and not their character and the type of people they are becoming.

I read some interesting words on this in Os Guiness’ book, Time for Truth. He says:

Right up to the end of the nineteenth century, the most important course in an American college student’s career was moral philosophy, or what we today call ethics. The course was seen as the crowning unit in the senior year, usually taught by the college president himself. As President James Monroe said of such classes, “The question to be asked at the end of an educational step is not, ‘What has the student learned?’ but ‘What has the student become?’”

I am convinced that the person you become will ultimately determine what you will experience in life and will determine your level of happiness.

What I have observed is that happiness for most people is the goal of life, and that filling our lives with pleasurable experiences will lead to that. However this is not working. People are searching for happiness and finding it to be elusive.

God never intended happiness as the goal of life. He intended it to be a by-product of becoming more and more like Christ. I have found we are not very interested in becoming like Jesus, because we don’t understand what that looks like. As I have studied His life, I have concluded that Christlikeness is to have a strong character, great wisdom, and the ability to love and have deep substantive relationships. Question. Do you want that for your life?

When I share these thoughts with men, they immediately want to know how to become more Christlike. I explain that you can’t on your own strength. We cannot change our hearts nor fill the emptiness of our souls. Only Christ can do that. He must do a work in our lives. He does that through our relationship with Him. For the deeper we go in a relationship with Him, the greater the transformation that takes place in our lives.

Before leaving, I would like to go back to the issue of pleasure, and I hope you recognize that it is a good thing. Pleasure is a gift of God, it was His idea and it was meant to bring delight into our lives. However, it was never meant to satisfy or fulfill us.

When it comes to the pleasures of life we must understand that God has given us boundaries in which to enjoy them. It is somewhat of a paradox that we maximize the enjoyment of life’s pleasures, by enjoying them within the boundaries he has given us.

A very good friend put this in perspective when he told me, “pleasure should add to the richness of life, but not to the substance of it.”


Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.

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