Happy is he who is able to find the fountain of goodness, and happy, too, is he who can free himself from the chains that bind him to heavy earth. (III, v, p. 103)
After explaining that luck is unrelated to happiness, Boethius addresses the concept of false happiness. According to Boethius, everyone desires happiness, but many people are unhappy because they pursue false happiness or a only piece of true happiness.
Pursuing False Happiness. According to Lady Philosophy, although everyone desires happiness, many are “led astray by the false ideas of the good” (III, i, p. 61). These false ideas of the good that people often pursue, mistaking them for the true good, include wealth, status, power, fame, and pleasure. For example, people pursue wealth thinking that it will bring them self-sufficiency (which is a good thing in itself); however, often in attempting to become self-sufficient people become confused or distracted and ultimately pursue wealth instead. Those who have money continue to worry about money and often want more. Consequently, wealth is a false happiness because despite the amount of money one has obtained, one cannot truly be self-sufficient as a result of their pursuit solely for wealth (III, i, p. 66).
Pursuing Only Part of Happiness. The other mistake people often make is pursuing only a part of happiness; instead of trying to obtain happiness in its entirety, “men divide as they try, in their misguided way, to get a part of it, although in fact it has no divisible parts” (III, iii, p. 81). For example, someone who pursues only pleasure without any of the other aspects of happiness will not truly be happy. If people merely pursued pleasure or joy, they would attain joy temporarily, failing to plan ahead and secure any of the other components of happiness. Essentially, if we pursued pleasure and joy alone, we would be nothing more than animals. People need to try to obtain happiness as a whole and not just a single component. Happiness, therefore, “is not be sought in any of its individual aspects” (III, iii, p. 82).
Boethius discussion applies accurately to our own times. People often make themselves unhappy by pursuing things in accordance with their false ideas of what happiness is. For example, even someone who is truly intelligent, kind, and hardworking may be unhappy due to their misunderstanding of what true happiness is. One example would be a student who, in choosing a college, is preoccupied with status, pursuing only Ivy League colleges. But such students are often disappointed, even when they are accepted to those schools. It makes more sense to look for a school that is a better fit for all of the student’s interests, needs, and abilities. After all, striving to be admitted into a good college is an admirable goal, but status is merely a component of the college selection process.
Overall, many people are unhappy because of their pursuit of the wrong things. In order to achieve happiness, one must pursue it as a whole and not confuse true happiness with other false ideas.
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