St. Augustine: On the Search for Happiness

St Augustin of Hippo
St. Augustine of Hippo

What do human beings think will make them really happy: Wealth? Health? Education? Possessions? Power? Wine? Women? Men? Sex? Drugs? They have all been tried and found wanting by countless people from all over the world. As Augustine of Hippo observes,

“Rest is not where you seek it. Seek what you seek, but it is not where you seek it. You seek happiness of life in the land of death, and it is not there.”

Go ahead: Add to the list of “candidates” for happiness! At first, they will satisfy human beings, leaving them to exclaim, “Eureka!” “I have found it!” Later on, it will end up disappointing them, because its “thrill” is transitory, ephemeral.

Very often, experience will teach human beings what understanding alone cannot. Thus, they will go on, trying to “reinvent the wheel” of happiness, learning for themselves what has already been known for a long, long time; in fact, since the beginning of the human race. I suppose that the song by the Rolling Stones, an English Rock Band, is right, although it is grammatically wrong: “I can’t get no satisfaction, ’cause I try and I try and I try and I try.”

Without “finding” God, the result will always be the same, which is, in the words of the biblical sage, “‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity'” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

Endnote

Augustine, Confessions, Bk. 4, Ch. 12, Par. 18, trans. F. J. Sheed, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Hackett, 2006), p. 65.

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