920. Can human beings enjoy perfect happiness on Earth?
“No, because corporeal life has been appointed to them either as a trial or as an atonement. People must reduce their misfortunes themselves, and make their lives as happy as possible while on Earth.”
921. We understand that human beings will be happy on Earth when the human race has been transformed. Meanwhile, can people ensure a moderate amount of happiness for themselves?
“Human beings are often the architects of their own unhappiness. If they obey God’s laws, they spare themselves much sorrow and also secure all the happiness corresponding with the human condition.”
People who are positive about their future destinies view their physical life as a temporary station. It is for them a momentary stopover at a awful hotel. They easily find solace for the fleeting frustrations of their journey in the fact that it is bringing them to a new, and happier position, which will be all the more favorable in proportion to the preparations they have made. In this life, we are punished for violating the laws of corporeal existence via the suffering that is a consequence of these violations and by the suffering that results from our own excesses. When we trace human troubles back to their origin, we find that the overwhelming majority are the result of an initial deviation from the right path. This deviation forces us to enter a wrong path, and each subsequent step brings us more deeply into misfortune.
922. Earthly happiness is relative to each person’s position, so that what suffices for the happiness of one can be the cause of misfortune for another. Is there a common standard of happiness for everyone?
“With regard to material life, it is the possession of what is necessary for survival. With regard to moral life, it is the possession of a good conscience and the belief in a future life.”
923. Is it true that a luxury for one becomes a necessity for another and vice versa, depending on circumstantial differences?
“Yes, according to your material ideas, prejudices, ambition and all the absurd notions that you gradually shed as you come to understand the truth of things. Obviously, people who once earned an income of 50,000 consider themselves very unfortunate when that income is reduced to 10,000. In this case, they perceive themselves to be less impressive to others since they can no longer maintain their status, keeping good horses, employees, and gratify all their tastes and passions. For them, these deprivations represent a lack of the very necessities of life. However, should we pity them while so many others are dying of cold and starvation, and do not even have a warm place to sleep at night? Those who are wise compare themselves to what is below them, never to what is above, unless it is to raise their soul to the Infinite.” (See no. 715)
924. Misfortune can strike anyone regardless of behavior, even for the most upright. Is there a way of protecting ourselves from misfortune?
“Such misfortune must be borne with resignation and without defiance in order to progress. However, you may always find solace in the hope of a happier future, provided you do what is needed to reach it.”
925. Why does God so often bestow the gifts of fortune on people who do not appear to deserve it?
“Wealth appears to be a favor to people who only see the present, but you must remember that fortune is often a more dangerous trial than poverty.” (See no. 814 et seq.)
926. Does civilization, by creating new wants, become the source of new afflictions?
“The problems of your world are proportional to the artificial wants that you create for yourselves. People who are able to set limits on their desires and see what is above them without feeling envy, spare themselves many disappointments. The richest person is the one with the fewest needs.”
“You envy the pleasures of those who appear to be favored by fortune, but do you know what is in store for many of them? If they use their wealth only for themselves, they are selfish and a terrible misfortune awaits them. Instead of feeling envy, you should feel pity for them. God sometimes allows the wicked to prosper, but you should not envy their prosperity because they will pay for it with bitter tears. When a righteous person experiences the trials of misfortune, they reap rich rewards if they bear them with courage. Remember Jesus’ words, ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’”
927. The superfluous is certainly not indispensable to happiness, but this is not true with regard to the necessities of life. So isn’t the misfortune of those who are deprived of them real?
“A person is truly unfortunate only when deprived of what is necessary for survival and physical health. If this deprivation is the result of their own behavior, they have only themselves to blame. If it is the fault of others, serious accountability lies with those who have caused it.”
928. By our natural aptitudes, God shows each of us our special vocation in this world. Are many of the problems of life attributable to a failure to follow that vocation?
“That is true. Parents, through pride or greed, often force their children to deviate from the path set for them by nature, but they will be held responsible for the results of this misdirection.”
a) Do you approve of the son of a well-regarded individual becoming a shoemaker for instance, if he was endowed with a natural talent for it?
“You must not waste time on absurd suggestions and exaggerations. Civilization has its necessities. Why would the son of a man holding a high position become a shoemaker, if he were able to do something more important? Such an individual must always make himself useful, according to his faculties, without contradicting common sense. For instance, if he does not have the aptitude to be a good lawyer, he might be a good engineer, mechanic, or any other profession.”
Assuming a position outside one’s intellectual scope is one of the most frequent causes of failure and disappointment. Lack of aptitude for the career one has set out to follow is a never-ending source of disappointment. Often pride prevents people, who fail in one career, to seek a humbler vocation. They are frequently tempted to commit suicide in order to escape what they view as humiliation. If a sound moral education elevates them above the stupid prejudices of pride, they are never at a loss to earn a living.
929. There are individuals destitute of all resources who, despite the abundance all around them do not see any other option for their problem except death. What course should they take under such circumstances? Should they allow themselves to die of hunger?
“No one should ever seriously contemplate the idea of dying of hunger. A person can always find the means of obtaining food if pride does not insert itself between want and work. It has often been said that ‘No work is dishonorable if honestly done,’ but this is one of those sayings that people are quick to preach their neighbors rather than applying to themselves.”
930. It is clear that, were it not for the social prejudices that we allow to sway us, a person is always able to find some sort of work to earn a living, even if in a humbler life and position. Among people who have no such prejudices and those who can set them aside, there are some who are truly unable to provide for their needs, due to illness or other circumstances beyond their control.
“In a society organized according to Christ’s laws, no one would ever die of hunger.”
In a wise and considerate society, no one lacks the necessities of life unless it is by their own fault. A person’s faults are often the result of the circumstances in which they find themselves. When people advance enough to exercise God’s laws, they are not only better intrinsically as individuals, but they also organize their social relations based on justice and charity. (See no. 793.)
931. Why is it that there are many more people who suffer rather than prosper in our society?
“None of you are perfectly happy, and what the world considers prosperity often hides the most agonizing sorrows. Suffering is everywhere. However, to answer the thought that prompted your question, the classes you call suffering are more numerous because Earth is a place of atonement. When human beings make Earth a sanctuary for goodness and good spirits, unhappiness will no longer exist. It will then be a paradise for all its inhabitants.”
932. Why do the wicked in this world so often have power over the good?
“This is a direct consequence of the weakness of the good. The wicked are captivating and bold, while the good are often timid. Whenever the good are determined to take over, they will prevail.”
933. People are often the architects of their own physical suffering. Are they the architects of their moral suffering as well? “Even more so, because material suffering is sometimes independent of their will. However, wounded pride, disappointed ambition, the anxieties of greed, envy, jealousy, and all the passions are the torments of the soul.”
“Envy and jealousy! Blessed are those who do not know these two gnawing worms! Where envy and jealousy exist, there can be no calm or tranquility. These passions torment anyone who is a slave to them, even in their sleep. The envious and jealous are always agitated. Is such a state desirable? Do you not understand that you create the most terrible tortures with such passions, and that Earth then truly becomes a hell for you?”
Many expressions paint vivid pictures of the effects of different passions. We say, “Bursting with pride,” “dying of envy,” “consumed by jealousy,” and so on; expressions that are very true. Sometimes even jealousy has no fixed object. There are individuals who are naturally jealous of anyone who rises, everything that is out of the ordinary, even when their own interests are in no way concerned, simply because they are not able to achieve a similar success. Everything that seems to be above the common horizon offends them, and if they formed the majority of society if possible they would want to bring everyone down to their level. It is jealousy attached to mediocrity.
Much of the unhappiness people feel is the result of the undue importance they attach to the things of this world. Vanity, ambition and greed make up a huge part of their misfortunes. If people place their goals beyond the narrow circle of physical life, raising their thoughts towards an infinite that is their destiny, then the difficulties of human life seem petty and foolish, like a broken toy over which a child weeps inconsolably.
Those who find their happiness only in the satisfaction of pride and gross material passions are unhappy when they cannot satisfy them. However, those who ask for no luxuries are happy under circumstances other people perceive as dire.
We are talking about civilized people, because savages do not have the same inclinations to envy and anxiety since they have fewer wants. Their way of looking at things is altogether different. In the civilized state, people analyze unhappiness, and are affected by them even more painfully. However, they may also analyze the means of consolation within their grasp. Christianity provides solace by giving them hope of a better future, and by Spiritism, that provides the certainty of that future.