A friend of mine in the Twin Cities, a former Catholic priest named Joe, asked me if I had ever written a blog or a section of one of my books on the relationship between wisdom and happiness. I hadn’t but promised that soon, as the Brits say, I would give it a go. Well, “soon” has come, so here I go...
When I think about these two terms in relationship, I am reminded of Plato’s three-fold unity of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Per Socrates’ student and one of the two seminal philosophers of classical Greece along with Aristotle, he hypothesized that if something were good, it would also of necessity be true and beautiful. and if beautiful or true, it would also have to be good. A Midday Prayer service in the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer (Anglican), drawing from that other major source of Western Civilization, the Judeo-Christian tradition, cites a Platonic-sounding passage from the Pauline Epistle to the Philippians (4:8): “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
What then is the connection between wisdom and happiness? The wise guy in me would answer, “If you are truly wise, you’ll know how to become, be, and/or stay happy.” But let’s go back to the basic meaning of wisdom: having enough knowledge or understanding to make good decisions, those which over time prove beneficial to self, others, and the wider world. Making such decisions leads, among other things, to choosing work which accords with one’s values and skills, finding and growing together with someone who turns out to be a suitable life partner, and raising children who as adults with their own children still love, respect, and happily spend time with you. In other words, good decisions lead to good outcomes which in turn lead to a life of contentment. And a life of contentment is surely another way of saying a life of happiness.
There is of course a spiritual dimension to all of this. I think of a song from Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical South Pacific. “Happy Talk.” In it, Bloody Mary, a wise “aunty,” as the Hawaiians say, from the islands to the south, counsels, “First ya gotta talk happy, then ya gotta have dream, or how ya gonna have a dream come true?” In short, to borrow the title of the Rev. Rick Warren’s bestselling book, The Purpose-Driven Life, you need a life mission or goal—a dream that is a marriage between your talents and an unmet need in your community or the wider world. Okay, Joe! That’s the best I can do today on the relationship of wisdom and happiness. To borrow again from dear, wise Bloody Mary, “You like? . . . You buy?”