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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.



7 thoughts on “Modesty and Happiness

  1. I am curious as to the specific definition of “modesty” you are using in this post. Are you using modesty as a synonym for “humility,” where to dress modestly would mean not dressing for the purpose of drawing attention to oneself? If so, I see how your final paragraph makes sense. But, you have a pinterest board filled with “modest clothing”. You’ve previously written about how you believe modest clothing and respect for oneself connect. So, it seems more likely your definition would be something along the lines of “dressing to intentionally not draw attention to one’s body.” From personal experience, I can say that this type of modesty does the exact opposite of alleviating pressure. In fact, it is entirely based in wondering how others will perceive me and my body. I appreciate that you are trying to advocate for the respect and dignity of women, but I would appreciate it if you didn’t presume to speak for women. There are plenty of us who will tell you that the picture you are painting here does not line up with our reality.

  2. how I dress has nothing to do with whether or not I am self-respecting myself or protecting my dignity. Dressing with overt care so that I don’t make “my brothers stumble” has nothing to do with how I feel. It brings a lot of pressure on me and it makes me feel like if I’m not careful, I will be guilty of causing a man to stumble. But, wait, that’s not my fault, because men are response for their eyes, not women. Dressing to respect my body would look like me dressing in such a way that allows me to be proud of how I look. Proud of my curves, proud of the feminine shape that God has given me. Just about all of the outfits on your pinterest board are doing a great job hiding the feminine body, and the women in the pictures are skinny with almost no shape. That may seem like a trivial thing, but it really bothers me when there is this standard to cover up curves, hide the shapes, wear the skirts to the knees or past because we can’t be showing our legs. Your Modest seems to mean skinny, no curves, and cover over so men don’t stumble. I don’t agree with that at all. Besides, guys are the worst judges because they have been pointing the finger at women since the beginning of time, blaming us for your mistakes. Let the women speak about how they feel under the ideas you present.

    • That God gave you curves as a reason to show them off is a non-sequitur. He also gave you areolas; doesn’t mean you should walk around showing them. The women are the tamers of men. If you dress like a hooker, don’t be surprised if immodest men treat you like one.

  3. “The women are the tamers of men. If you dress like a hooker, don’t be surprised if immodest men treat you like one.”

    THIS, ladies and gentlemen, is why modesty doctrine is downright harmful. It makes women responsible for the morality of men. It does not hold men accountable for their own choices. If men stumble, whether through treating a woman disrespectfully, or lusting in his mind, or whatever else, it is the woman’s fault because she was “dressed immodestly” (which, by the way, is completely relative to culture). THIS is the attitude that allows the church to look the other way when women speak up about being abused by men, because they’re “asking for it” with the way they dress. THIS is why the church is not a safe place for many women.

    Eugenia just proved my point in my first comment completely. Rather than modesty being something that allows women to refocus their attention on others and off themselves, it is something that constantly puts women in a position where they have to be hyper-aware of their body.

    Also, as a woman who has curves: Telling a woman to “cover up her curves” is to tell her that her only option is to wear a burlap sack or a burqa. It’s like telling a well-built man to dress so that people can’t tell that he’s well-built. It’s just not going to happen wearing normal clothes.

    I am tired of people trying to police what women wear. I am tired of people saying that women are responsible for men. I am just tired of it. It is not backed up by the Bible and is rooted in legalism, not in Christian freedom.

  4. GOM, it is all well and good to state opinions in a blog post, but it would be great if you would interact in the comment section as well. If you do not wish to participate in the comment section then it would be helpful to either A) not open your posts up for comments B) provide an explanation for why you will not interact with comments via your “About” page.

    Also, as a Catholic and as a woman, I would really appreciate if GOM would take ownership of statements, feelings and personal interpretation of Scripture. Using “I” statements would be nice.

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