“I wish I was more…”; “If I only had...” These wishes echo through our minds everyday. Upon reflecting on this, I started thinking about why I can’t just be satisfied with my daily living in the world and my current place in it. Why can’t I just be satisfied with what I have? Perhaps the answer is that I’m not meant to be simply satisfied. There is something about being human that causes one to look forward and beyond - to seek more. C.S. Lewis said: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”(1) If I am made for another world, what is the real world?
In today’s culture, people are often accused of not living in the “real world” if they do not conform to the whims of society. For instance, a person trying to live chastely usually is looked down upon and accused of not “getting with reality”. Many times, reality is classified as the state of affairs in the world right now. Yet, if we closely examine the world we live in, we see an over-sexualized culture, a societal structure based on subjectivism, and a great deal of misery and hate. We see people working and committing themselves to so many things in order to be busy and live a life of “success”- popularity, wealth, control. While some of these goals can be seen as good, they somehow still do not completely satisfy the desires of our heart. Furthermore, if that success is the goal of reality, it falls short and flat from all the wonderful things I can imagine for myself. This is why people have those wishes: “If only I had..” or “If only I was...”
Philosophers throughout the ages have discussed the makeup of the human person, and so to summarize all of their varying conclusions here is impossible. However, for our purposes, we will take as given that the human person is a composite being of body and soul. These two entities are related by merging into one single being. Our bodies, being physical, require the meeting of material desires: for example, the desire for food because of hunger. Our souls, however, are spiritual, and so desire immaterial goods like friendship, love, peace, and happiness. Our souls’ desires are not completely separate from those of the body; rather, they elevate the physical needs from those of the animal to those of the divine. For instance, the need for fellowship as a physical need can be shared with animals, yet the relationships we can have with our friends are uniquely human. This elevation is a simple raising up of the material to the spiritual. In this way, the human goes from merely an animal with a will and intellect to a person with a spiritual soul that looks beyond this physical world - from an intelligent animal to a personality. Dietrich von Hildebrand said: “Material objects, plants and animals simply ‘are’; the objective laws of matter and life operate in them. Only the spiritual person, as a conscious and free being, can behave ‘non-objectively’, building up a world of mere outward appearances and denying the objective order of being in his judgements, choices, and emotional responses.”(2) The human person, then, cannot simply live in a world centered around the physical desires of the body. There must be something else that our desires are ordered towards.
What, then, is our “real world”? It goes beyond simply being pulled by physical drives. For instance, we could say that the chief purpose of our life is to attain happiness. All of our desires and actions are performed in order to achieve some measure of good for ourselves, and this good is happiness. As Aristotle said: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”(3) Furthermore, the happiness we seek to attain is one that is long-lasting. The small happiness felt in the physical world cannot add up to satisfy the measure of happiness we truly desire. Getting the job of your dreams will only satisfy temporarily; you are still left wanting more. Therefore, it must be concluded that nothing in this world can completely satisfy our desires, and it is only in the highest form of spiritual happiness that our thirst for contentment can be satiated. Now, the tendency here among skeptics is to scoff at this conclusion. Nihilists, atheist existentialists, and materialists, for instance, would strongly disagree about this longing for the spiritual in every person. However, this is a fundamental human need for all no matter what faith or philosophy. In fact, the mere presence of so many religions in the world seems to point to people recognizing this need for the spiritual in their day-to-day lives. Further, we seem to know almost instinctively that we are placed in a world where there is more than we can see. That is why we are so attracted to abstracts like beauty and love, and find them in our books, movies, and art, etc. We find ourselves having to bring our minds back to reality after being so immersed in a good book or movie; we find ourselves lost in the wonders of a painting or sculpture. In everything, people long for more, for a happiness that is fulfilling and lasting, yet this fulfillment is not to be found in the physical realm.
We unconsciously recognize the fact that we are limited in the physical realm. Because of this recognition, we have a longing to go further. We often ask little children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?.” Yet, once they have grown up and fulfilled their goal, what then? There is a point when we must come to the logical conclusion, like C.S. Lewis, that we were made for another world. While we can be satisfied temporarily with the material goods of this physical realm, we must recognize our need for total fulfillment in the spiritual and order our lives accordingly.
- C.S.Lewis, Mere Christianity
- Dietrich von Hildebrand, My Battle Against Hitler, 309.
- Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics