Will you have a Level 4 Christmas?
How common is it for Christmas to be a time of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, or short-lived happiness at most? Advent, running for these four weeks up to Christmas Day is a time to consider how to achieve a truly Happy Christmas. What though is happiness?
The Greek philosophers, especially Aristotle, in the centuries before Christ established timeless principles underpinning four levels of happiness which endure and help to explain much of the modern world.
None of the four levels, even the lower levels, are automatically bad; but a failure to balance happiness across all four levels traps a soul in depression and misery.
The modern world is increasingly stuck in Level 1. There is accelerating desire for immediate gratification as humanity becomes more self-centred. The joy of eating is a legitimate Level 1 pleasure; but continuous eating leads to despair. But it’s not just food: dopamine-hits fuel this gratification, with smartphones the new principal agitator.
Most people legitimately look for happiness in personal attainment at Level 2. Gratification following some achievement is necessary to sustain work. But it’s an ultimately flawed concept where repeat happiness of this type depends on ego, jealousy and one-upmanship.
In Levels 1 & 2, happiness and suffering do not mix – e.g. obesity is a suffering which blunts the pleasure from eating. Any suffering terminates the happiness.
Work solely for others characterises Level 3. Putting others first is a well-recognised route to gratification – something policing can do very well. At this level, surprisingly, suffering and pain start to complement each other. Parenting is the best example: it is tough, yet thoroughly gratifying at the same time. Despite the challenges, it’s a true paradox that the more you give outside of yourself, the more interior happiness one attains.
But even then, one of the unexpected realisations in life is that you cannot hang on to happiness. Like the beauty of a butterfly – if you try to hang on to it, you crush the beauty. Aristotle determined that living in union with Truth and Good is the ultimate Level 4 Happiness.
How? God is Truth and Good. Christmas marks the birth of God-made-man and provides the manifest opportunity for humanity to experience Truth, Love, Justice and Beauty. Advent is the time to reflect, correct and seek an enduring happiness with God.
Perhaps some practical tips for the four weeks of Advent:
Week 1: Put ‘black Friday’ and addictions behind you, consider periods of fasting from food and gadgets to clear the mind – get beyond immediate gratification.
Week 2: Reflect on the stresses and achievements of 2021 – resign them to the past.
Week 3: Ponder your works for others and whether they are for the greater good – and check you have arranged meaningful Christmas presents for those you most love.
Week 4: Spend the last week of Advent focussed on the great miracle of Jesus Christ, showing Himself as the source of Truth and Love upon which we can anchor our happiness.
Be inspired to enduring happiness this Advent!