Modesty and Happiness

Screen shot 2013-02-15 at 1.45.30 PMWhile there are many ways to achieve material success, there are only a few ways to achieve happiness, which is often a different matter. A universal truth of mankind is that we find the highest and best happiness not in serving ourselves but others. While this truth may be cliché, it is nonetheless a struggle to implement in our own lives because we seem hard-wired to focus first and foremost on our own wants. Fr. Robert Spitzer S.J., a noted modern physicist and philosopher, has written at length on what he calls the “four levels of happiness.”

They are:

  1. Psychical pleasure
  2. Egotistical pleasure
  3. Joy in serving others
  4. Joy in serving God.

Each level provides deeper and longer lasting happiness. People stuck on the first two levels continually struggle to maintain happiness, and then they discover the happiness they do achieve to be less and less satisfying, while people who find their happiness in the 3rd and 4th levels find lasting and increasing joy.

Modesty refocuses a person’s attention from themselves to those around them. This paves the road for happiness in two ways. Firstly, modesty alleviates the pressure of worrying what others think of us. Secondly, in directing our thoughts and actions to the needs of others, modesty leap-frogs us to the third level of happiness: rejoicing in others’ good instead of our own. So, far from restricting our interactions with the world around us, modesty enables us to participate in it more fully and fruitfully.