Is our spirituality about finding happiness or finding Truth?

How do we view spirituality? What are we trying to find? Some of us see spirituality as a search for Truth, and many popular religions claim to know this Truth. Others view spirituality more as a quest for happiness, looking for a set of beliefs or practices that will bring this about. Both of these goals are perfectly natural: The quest for Truth is worthwhile and important, and the desire for happiness is common to us all. Nonetheless, it is important to be clear about which particular goal we are aiming for.

If our goal is to find Truth then a certain approach is appropriate. We must inquire with no restrictions on what we might find. The Truth could be good or bad: We cannot believe something because we would like it to be true, we can only believe it because we think it is true. Thus, we must question with an open mind and accept whatever we discover.

If our goal is to find happiness, then our approach is different. We are looking for a way of living that makes us feel good. The primary goal is not Truth. In fact, we may even find ourselves wanting to believe things that we think are untrue. For example, we may find it comforting to believe that a God-like figure watches over us, and yet deep down consider this possibility unlikely. In such situations, it is foolish to delude ourselves and believe something untrue. However, we can acknowledge the idea as a useful way to think, even if not necessarily factual.

Problems arise when we are confused about our goal. We may state that we are looking for Truth when deep down we are really just looking for happiness. This can result in us defending beliefs that make us happy – such as the belief in a God-like figure – even when another part of us thinks they are untrue. Such conflicts are less likely to arise when we are clear about our goal. Although we may be reluctant to distinguish between searching for Truth and searching for happiness, it is well worth doing. The two are related, but not identical, and our journey will be more directed and less confusing if we know exactly what we are aiming for.

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