Friday, July 13, 2007

Good Temper

You have, I expect, heard of ill temper. More commonly in America we call it a bad mood. For calling something what it is, I prefer ill temper. Temper reminds me of anger, of a tantrum, of something that ought to be controlled. Mood makes the person with a bad one a victim, not responsible for their unpleasantness.

There are many words to describe pleasant feelings. We might say good-tempered, good-humored, in a good mood, happy, content, joyful, ecstatic, pleased, delighted, thrilled, elated, cheerful, blissful, in good spirits, jolly, merry, or jovial. Some are more an emotional reaction, a feeling. Others bring to mind expression, action, or a way of life.

Dennis Prager, a radio talk show host, authored a book titled Happiness is a Serious Problem. I confess I’ve never read it, though I have heard his basic thoughts on the subject by catching pieces of his radio program. Every Friday he devotes an hour to some happiness-related topic. Some days the advice is good, offering perspective on the petty things that keep us from being happy. Other days his focus is disgustingly selfish.

The point at which I would take issue with Dennis Prager is when he argues for making choices to procure one’s own happiness. Being happy is not selfish; in fact it is good for the world around you. But to make choices with the motive of happiness is selfish. It disregards others. To base decisions on happiness leaves you victim to warring claims for happiness. Which type of happiness would you prefer if one is set against another? And whatever happened to all those biblical examples of men who denied themselves to serve God, to do what is right?

I thought of Dennis Prager as I read an essay by C.S. Lewis today. In this little-known essay by the darling author of modern Christianity, C.S. Lewis deals with happiness, joy, and good temper. He did not, I would guess, set out to compare and contrast any of these, to rank them in value, or to tell you how to enjoy one or the other. Nevertheless, in a narrative way, that is what he did. Hedonics is what I consider the best treatment of happiness.

My favorite of his points (which coincides with Dennis Prager’s) is that all those things: happiness, joy, and good temper, are choices. In every situation there is what C.S. Lewis describes as the ghost railway compartment you see out the window of your train, but which you can ignore if you like. From this discardable world you can receive joy and pain, but only if you heed it. The sensible, grown-up realist in you would argue for disregarding those irrational feelings. Listening to this sensible side, the Jailer, as C.S. Lewis calls him, won’t make you a better person. Being, rather, happy is not selfish. In one light, giving into joy – and also to sorrow – is being alive.

C.S. Lewis writes that he was on a certain trip, and by an unidentified sense, invited to be happy, “like a delicious faint wind on your face which you can easily ignore. One was invited to surrender to it.” The joy he describes is not given to illusion or wishful thinking. The hills, which are green, look blue from a distance, and if one is happy to see blue hills, he should not stop being happy because he knows they are green. The story related in Hedonics is of a trip to the suburbs of London – Lewis’ first – and the strange joy of seeing something unfamiliar as someone else’s home. He insists he was not deceived into imagining that the suburbs were a utopia. “I knew quite well that perhaps not ten percent of the homes they [commuters] were returning to would be free, even for that one night, from ill temper, jealousy, weariness, sorrow or anxiety, and yet…”

When the average suburban home was described, I heard a challenge. Less than ten percent were havens of good temper. What is the difference? Were ninety percent just cursed? If so, it is not in keeping with the tone of the rest of the essay. How might one guard against ill temper, jealousy, weariness, sorrow, and anxiety – so leaving the home free to be happy? Men might stop considering it their right to be miserable when happiness is not forced upon them, and instead they should choose to be joyful.

The list of what the homes he was visiting likely were not experiencing comprise a sort of opposite of happiness. Ill temper, bad humor, discontent, anxiety, sorrow… But those people were home. And if they could only see their homes through the visitor’s eyes, perhaps they would have joy at the sight. Perhaps, even though home held nothing of forced happiness, some of the commuters chose to be relieved at the sight of the familiar.

How interesting, then the second definition of Hedonics from the American Heritage Dictionary:

1. The branch of psychology that studies pleasant and unpleasant sensations and states of mind.
2. Philosophy The branch of ethics that deals with the relation of pleasure to duty.

Pleasure may be contrasted with duty. It may coincide with duty. It may spring from fulfilling one's duty. Pleasure may be a duty.

To God be all glory.


ZJRamsli said...

1. The branch of psychology that studies pleasant and unpleasant sensations and states of mind."

Very interesting. It's like when I go running on my own it's no big deal, but when I'm forced to do it and meet a certain standard (like the PFT I am doing tomorrow) my mind can kind of freak out on me.
I guess I just gotta think more POSITIVELY.

ZJRamsli said...

Hey I think it worked! ;]
I cut 3min off my run time.

Mac.AmideDieu said...

Ha ha... way to be zjramsli! =)

Way to be...

Hey, Lisa...

Before I got to the end of your post, after your first mention of "hedonics" in fact, I looked up "Hedonics" for myself and.... ha ha haa!!!

and I was like, oh... wow... that second definition there is... thought provoking.

=) ha ha haa....

Yes, interesting.

Reminds me of some conversations I had with a friend a while back.

Pleasure, springing FROM duty... overlapping, perhaps...

Instead of "every good deed is, ultimately, selfish."

Do I do what's good, because I know, for ME to be happy in the long run, I must do it -to procure MY future happiness. Still, this results in doing the good, action.


do I do what's good, simply, selflessly because I know it is plainly the good thing to do, because more good will come from it -for others', for God's happiness. This also results in doing the good action.


Altruism, versus, Egoism.

"And remember...

-Jimmy Gourd, Veggie Tales. (Impersonating, QWERTY)

-MAC <>< =)