When Blaise Pascal died in 1662 he left behind hundreds of notes consisting of fragmented thoughts. These notes were eventually gathered together and published in 1669 under the title Pensées (meaning ‘thoughts’).
In note #425, Pascal contemplated happiness, our undying pursuit of it, and our inability to ever really attain it here on earth.
“All men seek happiness,” Pascal wrote. “This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”
C.S. Lewis made a similar observation, suggesting we’re all conscious of a desire that no natural happiness will ever satisfy. Lewis explains, our desire for Paradise or Heaven does not necessarily prove we shall all enjoy it, but it does indicate that such a thing exists and that some men will.
“A man’s physical hunger does not prove that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist.”
“A man may love a woman and not win her,” Lewis went on to say. “But it would be very odd if the phenomenon called ‘falling in love’ occurred in a sexless world.”
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
In his essay titled Weight of Glory, Lewis attempted to articulate the longing or desire we feel:
We don’t merely want to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words–to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.
That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and godesses and nymphs and elves–that, though we cannot, yet these projections can enjoy in themselves that beauty, grace, and power of which Nature is the image.
That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west win could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that ‘beauty born of murmuring sound’ will pass into a human face; but it won’t. Or not yet.
For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy.
At present, we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see.
But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in.
This is what Pascal was referring to when he spoke about our pursuit of happiness. In the same fragment cited above, he went on to explain:
“There was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.”
Or as Augustine prayed: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.”