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Looking for and Moving to a Better Place: The Search for "Eudemonia"
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2015-10-08 11:25:47
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Looking for and Moving to a Better Place: The Search for “Eudemonia”
A Personal Reflection


A home on a Lake

Why do people keep on moving from place to place? I suppose the simplest philosophical answer is the one supplied by Aristotle: eudemonia (happiness) is a primary motivator of human life: if we are not happy in one place we look for a better place. This may go a long way in explaining the long journey of primitive man out to Africa to eventually populate the whole globe. Jung considered the journey an archetype of the human condition. Indeed, there is a little bit of Odysseus in all of us even if most of us are not heroes. The search for happiness has moved and motivated humans from time immemorial transforming them into explorers, settlers, pioneers, migrants, tourist, world travelers, refugees, you name it. Each one of those designations describes somebody on the move even if the motivations may differ from designation to designation. There is a refugee crisis going on as we speak; it would be a travesty to designate those people as tourists looking for fun to see the European sights, although an immigrant may have the same motivation: to get to a better place and better one’s family’s future. But whatever the exact motivation, millions of people remain on the move. Were one to ask them why, the most popular answer would probably be: because we are looking for a better place where we can be happy and at peace. Only a masochist would move to a worst place. Aristotle was a genius for thinking of eudemonia as the common denominator explaining the constant moving about and Donald Trump is a veritable idiot for thinking that there are winners, the ones who own the land and the wealth, and losers, the refugees and illegal aliens who need to be deported or perhaps placed in concentration camps as undesirables. The man is still blissfully unaware that we are all refugees from unhappiness and misery, but he desperately wants to be our president and he is on journey to achieve that so that he too will be happier and not just rich, never mind the tremendous disaster that would represent for the USA.

But to continue, the move could be across the world to a far-away place like Australia or America, but it can also be more modest: moving from one house to another, from one neighborhood to another, from one county to another. Of course, given that man is composed of body, mind, and spirit, the move or the journey could also be an intellectual or spiritual one. Kant and Emily Dickinson never moved more than a few miles from where they were born but they took incredible intellectual and spiritual journeys. Every day was an adventure for them. The trouble with much touristy travels across the world is that it remains just a physical journey of a body being moved from one place to another, a way of distracting oneself unaccompanied by any meaningful observations, thinking, comparisons of cultures, often resulting in banalities and trivialities jotted down in a diary: what did we eat today, the weather was bad, that tower was really tall.

But let’s stay for the moment with mere physical moving and journeys. Even here the move may be just a way of avoiding boredom or to upscale one’s residence and neighborhood (sometime downsize them if economic conditions worsen) or a display of conspicuous consumption within the rat race that most people engage in within a capitalistic system, or it may be an unconscious desire to achieve happiness. And here we have arrived at a more personal description of one such moves, what sometimes is described as “confessional writing,” the kind of writing that goes back to St. Augustine, but let’s keep well in mind that St. Augustine wrote his confessions to inspire others to leave the constrictions of the purely egotistical individualistic description (which he had abandoned) and aim at what is universally valid. He is the one who certainly went through many moves in his life and at the end he wrote that our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.

In any case, as an immigrant born from a father who was born in New York from an immigrant grandfather, I have been moving about around the world since I was two. I have lived and worked in an Hispanic culture (Puerto Rico) for eight years, lived and studied in several states (New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Puerto Rico, Florida) and Italy. Since I got married I must have changed residences at least a dozen times. The last move came about just a few weeks ago. It was just a move from one county to one a bit further north, Lake Worth and it was consciously motivated by a desire to be closer to our two married daughters and the grandchildren who live in the same county.

The move took place soon after another significant event in my individual private life: I had to be taken to the hospital with chest pains and there I underwent a quadruple bypass to my heart. I was there for two whole weeks attended by the solicitous care of nurses and doctors, all trying to take care of my body, precious few concerned with my mind and my soul’s care. That was an experience which merits its own description. Suffice here to mention that the pain and suffering was not only physical but also mental in as much as for those two weeks my mind and body were not functioning any longer as a well-coordinated integrated whole. Any intellectual who has undergone this operation surely knows what I am talking about. So already before the physical move there was some kind of intellectual-spiritual move going on.

Then came the change of residence. At first I thought that such a move could not have come at a worst moment of my life, but I was wrong there. I could do precious little to help with the moving. We moved from a condominium apartment on the fourth floor to a house on a lake in almost complete privacy and solitude. No traffic can be heard. Moreover, when one wakes up in the morning one sees the sun rising on the lake and hears the chirping of the birds and sometimes the wind blowing among the branches of the palm trees. This sublime beauty and natural silence was surely an added unexpected value to the one of being close to my daughters and grandchildren. I thought of such a setting as ideal, to be wished on everybody but unattainable. The words of William James came to mind: beware of what you wish: you may end up getting it. These thoughts occurred to me on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4 when, and I thought to myself: surely this setting in which perhaps I will reside for the last years of my life is a gift from St. Francis of Assisi who believed that reverence for the beauty and sublimity of nature was nothing else but the royal road to God. Was this was a recompense of sort for the suffering and distress of two weeks in a hospital, a sort of healing medicine. Surely this was not just a physical move but perhaps an invitation to some kind of intellectual and spiritual journey to be undertaken, to what Aristotle calls “the isle of the blessed.” This may turn out to be a game changer or a life changer after all.


St. Francis of Assisi

Not many people know that before he founded the order of friars minor (the Franciscan order), Francis lived alone in complete solitude and utter poverty for seven whole years. His journey was based on a complete identification with nature to the point that he called the sun brother sun and the moon sister moon, and the wind brother wind. The very first Italian poem is by St. Francis and its title is “The Canticle of Creatures.”

So we are all on a journey motivated by eudemonia but that journey ought not to be reduced to a mere material physical one aiming at avoiding boredom and seeking distractions. For, if that’s all it is it will ultimately prove disappointing we will then move again looking for that elusive ultimate happiness, something that is most probably is unattainable in this world within time and space, despite Aristotle’s insight. Even Aristotle was skeptical about the attainment of absolute happiness as the expression “isle of the blessed” would indicate. He said that human nature is perfectible but he never said that it was perfect as is. Perhaps it is enough for now to know that within time and space the journey itself is the destination.     


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Emanuel Paparella2015-10-08 13:34:23
A footnote: the home you see on top of this reflection is not the actual home where I have moved (albeit it is on a lake within nature's solitude) but an idyllic home of symbolizing an idyllic journey to "the isle of the blessed."

Nikos Laios2015-10-08 15:14:51
Indeed Emanuel,

Thank your for this wonderful existential journey. Happiness is not only found in our self, in our loved ones, and sharing with fellow human beings, but in solitude,and in discovering the magic and joy in nature.

It is here that so many who dwell in the western world are dislocated from these miracles that await us in nature and drown in the artifice of consumerism and materialism ; separated from the communion with the innocence of the world hidden under concrete and steel. For most do not even know who their authentic self is, and have based their lives on an illusionary image of the self, let alone their total divorce from any relationship with nature.

Many times I felt the itch in my feet to take a journey on the road and let the freedom rush through my hair like the wind. I have expedited many wonderful things. Yet the siren call of the wild Mountains of my homeland back in Epirus in Greece are calling me; with its fir and pine forests, wolves, bears, golden eagles, waterfalls and ancient temples.

It's only a matter of time before I uproot from Australia and go back home to live in unity with the Mountain peaks that enchant me so. It is hartening to see you have found your 'isle of the blessed',and good to see you are on the road to recovery.

The journey to happiness does start with the self and then with our loved ones, but I think even more importantly the intellectual and spiritual journey that awaits us in the miracles of the natural world is even more important.

Marie-frantz jean-pharuns2015-10-26 05:02:51

One does not attain Eudemonia through materialistic worth but through a constant communion with your inner self.

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