Any scholarly study which addresses the meaning of human happiness includes without exception a reference to “the person within”, that enigmatic collection of strengths, frailties, aspirations, anxieties, accomplishments and failures which supposedly make us who we are and without the full cognition of which we can apparently never be content. Often the pursuit of the person within is represented to contradict the world without, rather like pitting the finite against the infinite (with the laurels normally going to the infinite as the only real source of happiness). This contradiction of the temporal world clearly works especially well for those who are in a perpetual state of want though the elevation of one’s mind to the spiritual ether is not lost on those who have abused their material advantage and who as a result seek delivery from it.
Inward analysis is portrayed as a panacea. To listen to some people complain, you would think they had done nothing their entire life but live to fulfill the expectations of others rather than listening to the intoxicating notions of their inner self. I am not convinced however that those private whimseys are altogether trustworthy and may indeed be more capricious than judicious. Nonetheless there prevails the widespread view that the unconscious holds the key, suggesting even that to find one’s inner voice is to find one’s inner counsellor.
The experience of knowing the person within is likened at times to listening to one’s instincts or the pursuit of self-awareness. The activity of seeking happiness – from whatever source – requires both purpose and discipline. If for example it is true that for years we have pandered to the wishes and views of others at the expense of our own inclinations, it requires strong commitment and repeated practice to thwart the abuse. It takes courage to be who you really are.
Discovering one’s personal identity is slippery business. One’s “self” (even acknowledging its inescapable connection with our biological individuality) is less a thing, more a process. Happily the project of self-discovery produces the advantage of freshly minted perspectives, unique to ourselves. We needn’t suffer the indignity of being a rubber-stamped copy of someone else’s making.
As a social phenomenon the search for the person within has gathered speed in the past several decades. Consider for example how prevalent were the mores to conform in the 1950s – 1960s. Indeed the achievement of commonality was highly desirable. The standard persuasion of the post-war middle class housewife, husband and child was epitomized in such now laughable television series as “Father Knows Best”, “Leave It To Beaver” and “The Brady Bunch”. While there will of course continue to be people who see these “innocent times” as having some continued worth for their preservation of traditional values, the more popular trend since the 1970s is toward greater individuality and growth of one’s personal qualities and ideals though frequently unsupported by the majority.
It is arguable that we are the last to know ourselves. While we may fashion in our own minds that our behaviour or thoughts are projected in one manner or another, likely it is closer to the truth that the irrefutable substance of our being is apparent in any event, with or without our massaging influence.