IN an age of great freedoms and affluence, the most common psychiatric problems have shifted from guilt to depression.
Secular societies judge only by results and those who fail by societal standards, who are not productive and successful, or athletic enough, are often deemed failures.
But success often seems to contain the seeds of its own failure. The rich are not any happier than the poor. Nor the famous and powerful any more self-assured than the unknown.
And the truth is that God of the Christians, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims does not care who wins a football game or an Olympic gold medal.
The Lord’s Prayer says nothing about “winning the game”, and winning at Who Wants To Be A Millionaire will not make life worthwhile.
True spirituality is concerned with filling a natural hunger in the soul for meaning.
English philosopher Jeremy Bentham said the identification of what makes us happy was easy. An action’s tendency to promote happiness could be determined simply by adding up the amount of pleasure it produced and subtracting the pain.
John Stuart Mill thought this crude and recognised that happiness depended not only on the quantity but also the quality of pleasures, including the higher pleasures of the intellect and “moral sentiments”.
Aristotle linked happiness with ideas of fulfilment and self-realisation. They all still judged happiness by human standards.
Jewish author Rabbi Harold Kushner has a different outlook on success and failure.
“If people only see what is measurable and visible, God sees into the heart. He sees successes where no one else does, not even ourselves.
“Only God can give credit for the angry words we did not speak, the temptations we resisted and the patience and kindness long forgotten by those around us.
“God redeems us from the sense of failure and fear of failure because He sees us as no human eyes can.”
Thomas Merton wrote 30 years ago that life was one great unity, brimming with meaning for those who allowed themselves to co-create with God.
He recognised the coming age of the New Age “be yourself” cults that would encourage followers to achieve individual success without offering any spiritual substance.
“It seems to me that when one is too intent on being himself, he runs the risk of impersonating a shadow,” he said.
“In any case, there is little chance of us being anyone else. We all live somehow or other and that’s that.”