Reflection: Finding Happiness in Wisdom

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

Ecclesiastes 1:2

“However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.”

Ecclesiastes 11:8

By John Wm. Dunn

King Solomon, traditionally regarded as the wisest king in Judaic literature, established a reign of peace in the young Israelite nation following the warring personality of his father, King David, known as the greatest king of the same nation. What did King Solomon see in the fabric of humanity that his father did not see? I believe the answer to this question lies in one of the last writings of King Solomon – the book of Ecclesiastes. Through personal insight gained from my application of wisdom, I shall demonstrate my journey towards happiness which, according to Solomon, is the best end a man can achieve throughout his mortal life. As I wrote in my personal story, I have constantly prayed to understand the “big picture” of mental illness. Just recently, as I have begun to find happiness on my journey through mental illness, I have been inspired to share this happiness to anyone who chooses to follow the path of wisdom.

I shall begin our journey by recounting a recent personal experience which led me to the realization that the best man can hope for in this mortal world is the virtue of happiness which can conceivably lead to a society in which everyone is content and happy in the pursuit of truth as they perceive it. As I proceed with my story, however, I must make it clear that my experience may not be representative of another’s truth. I am simply presenting my journey towards happiness in the hopes that you may gain a small bit of insight into your truth or simply challenge your beliefs or even any rejection of belief systems.

Yesterday started off as a typical day during which I attended mass in the morning and then moved on to my daily activities, which on this day included a leisurely trip to the park with my wife. As we were observing nature and all the apparent beauty in the landscape (I must use the word “apparent” because, as we were absorbed in the moment, I realized the fact that we were observing two totally different environments) I asked my wife, “What do you see in front of you?” She responded by pointing out the beautiful neatly trimmed grass and flowers along with a gorgeous landscape of boulders decorating a riverbed and a huge healthy maple tree. My perception, however, was much different. I saw the work put into keeping the lawn trimmed and the effort put forth by the tractors to place the boulders by the riverbed. These observations led me to consider the pollution caused by exhaust from the engines from the tractors and the lawnmowers that provided this apparent beauty. Furthermore, I saw the environmental injustice that could be done to the maple tree resulting from possible exhaust particles. As I pondered our perceptions, I could see that we had totally different worldviews which led me to think a little bit deeper.

My wife and I are obviously two totally different individuals, however, our discussion provided me with some valuable insight into my personal mental illness. As I empathetically considered her perception of the park, I was reminded of my earlier years in which I saw beauty in almost everything, which produced a feeling of deep joy. Once I attempted to step out of my somewhat dark way of thinking, I was reminded of extended periods of spiritual darkness in which I had to step into the light to realize a greater truth which led to what I currently consider to be reasonably happy (Reinhold Niebuhr – The Serenity Prayer). This realization, however, was not the greatest truth I discovered.

As I further pondered this revelation of the “greater truth,” I further considered the joy that I experienced upon my observations, and began to compare them to my spiritual valleys and mountains which, in my experience, are similar to my emotional highs and lows. As a logical result of these inner contemplations, I began to imagine the awe that I will feel when I meet my creator face-to-face in what I perceive as my personal judgment. Personally, I believe that at that moment I will realize that my vast worldly observations and insights are infinitely insignificant to the wisdom of my creator; however, I will also experience the infinite joy of pondering the eternal source of wisdom and virtue – that is, unbounded love.

I firmly believe that we all possess a need for love and a certain degree of happiness. Personally, I have acquired these two virtues in the pursuit of a knowledge of my creator which others, especially the philosophers (like myself), would call truth. In other words, the joy is not the destination, it is in the journey. King Solomon expresses this eternal truth throughout the book of Ecclesiastes by saying worldly wisdom is meaningless in the eyes of the creator and that, in the end, the best man can hope for is happiness. I would like to conclude by saying that I believe that the pursuit of happiness on the part of all individuals, including the vulnerable, will lead to a more content and peaceful society.

As I wrap up this article which presents my thoughts on some very abstract concepts, I would like to reiterate the fact that I have developed these thoughts on a low-income budget while struggling with a serious mental disorder. This is to point out the fact that happiness is not dependent on income or disability; instead, I believe that it is achieved by the prudent use of personal and spiritual gifts offered by a higher power whom I believe to be a just creator while justice is a higher virtue which we shall address next month. Once again, the opinions presented in this article are my personal beliefs and I welcome all feedback which you may wish to offer regardless of your belief or non-belief system. If you do desire to offer any feedback, feel free to contact me through my email address john.totalawareness@gmail.com.

NAMI Washtenaw recognizes all faith and spiritual traditions, including those who do not subscribe to a faith or spiritual tradition, we invite you to tell your story from your own faith perspective. Submit this form to express your interest in contributing.

John began his journey over twenty-five years ago with a psychotic break in which he experienced several religious thoughts and delusions which were out of touch with reality or true spirituality. Throughout the years following his diagnosis as an adult who struggles with schizoaffective disorder, he has received formal education in religious studies and philosophy while praying and studying the “big picture” of mental illness and the “bigger questions” of life. Through his religious studies courses he received an understanding of his inner being which includes his diagnosis as well as the “big picture” of how he would feel if he were mentally and emotionally stable. Through his education in philosophy, he came to an understanding of how to reach this state through a logical approach to his therapy. It is his desire to share this journey which he will continue throughout the remainder of his mortal life with his audience.

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