Mini-Feature: The Most Important Personal Goal

What is the most important goal every person should have?

Read Aristotle’s Ethics: happiness. He argues that this is attained ultimately through attaining the right habits of action—and thinking. These are called virtues. But wealth and honor or fame are the usual alternative contenders people assume will make them happy. To some extent both are justly desired, and to the extent honor or just recognition seems unobtainable, men revert to wealth as both standard and goal. Short of these, we pretend that distracted leisure (beach vacations and hobbies and consuming entertainment) make us happy. And to some extent they do too.

But even short reflection and experience reveals that without something more meaningful, distracted leisure makes us worse off, leading to profound unhappiness and addiction. Wealth is not an end in itself anyhow, so it only partially counts (what, ultimately, do you want the money for). Besides, you can have your own private jet and weep on it amidst a soul-tearing divorce, after all. We all want wealth, but deep down we all know it’s not enough.

The problem of honor or recognition as the source of happiness is that it depends on the other people doing the honoring. It’s not going to make you self-sufficiently happy on its own. Must all our happiness be tied to the opinions of others? Down that path madness lies.

You’re left with yourself, internally, and the possibility of meaningful relationships with others. The broad claim of Christianity and Aristotle alike is that you must get your own house in order if you wish to be happy. So what does that look like? It means developing the habits that make you whole and healthy of soul and body.  Christianity points to the sordid history of human beings and says we need grace from above to heal and fuse our broken selves. But it agrees that the natural goal is virtue.

The traditional understanding is not that we must follow some arbitrary set of rules to live as subjects of some authoritarian rule, but that we need guides to develop strength of character—we adopt rules to form us with happiness as the goal. Without them, we can do expect deep unhappiness. So what habits ought we attempt to form within ourselves, with what rules to guide us?

Figuring that out is the most important task you have as a human being.

-Matthew Peterson, founding editor of The American Mind

Despite all the disagreements and mysteries entailed, the personal goal is to save your soul! Without this you are nothing. And not even “choosing a religion” and “sticking to it” will necessarily suffice. No, there is not even a guarantee you will become “sure” at some point on this planet that your soul is being saved. The huge realignment of habits and mores unfolding right now reveals that these uncomfortable encounters with bedrock reality are being thrust into the foreground for many millions. Few are ready. Many will go badly astray. Prepare yourself!

-James Poulos, executive editor of The American Mind

To get right with Man upstairs.

-David Bahr, managing editor of The American Mind

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Everyone ought to be serving God all the time. Of course, we are basically always not doing this, which is part of how you know it's so important. But the north star of every moment is this: to wrench your own consciousness out of its natural seat, which is deep in the brooding canyon of your own concerns, and wonder what the ever-abundant source of all being, who needs nothing, asks of you. What would you do if you already possessed the most important thing in the world, namely eternal life—which, if you have faith, you shall? The daily death of not hunting after the thing you want but running after the thing God wants is the practice of a lifetime and more.

-Spencer Klavan, associate editor of The American Mind