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Vanity versus Happiness:
Can a Man Distinguish Between Them?


By Ernest DeFilippis

--  Part 1 --
Public Seminar of August 28, 2003 at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, 141 Greene St., New York, NY 10012
I was 20 years old and in Louisville playing ball. Having had a good day at the plate that day I had a rather large sense of myself as I entered a popular night spot. I stood at the entrance checking out the girls and felt a rush when I made eye contact with several of them. I then nonchalantly made my move and proceeded to fall flat on my face.  Since I was using my eyes to admire those who were admiring me, I didn't see I had been standing at the edge of a platform. 

          My notion of happiness was to be the star and outshine everyone. But the feeling of exultation I got looking down on people, I learned from Aesthetic Realism, is really the thrill of contempt. "Vanity," said Eli Siegel, "is the desire to please oneself by not being in an accurate relation with what is not oneself." This is completely against our deepest purpose, and against real happiness--the glorious, lasting thing we so much want. In his lecture Aesthetic Realism and Happiness, Mr. Siegel said:

 Happiness can be defined as the feeling that what one wants is going along with what the world is or does.  That is what it deeply is: the utmost affirmation of oneself with the utmost acceptance of what is not one self.  It is always that; it is never anything else. [The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known#1569]
This describes what I felt as a boy when I built a house for my dog Champ. I thought: What would he like?  How much room did he need to be comfortable? How high should the floor be? I carefully designed the house, selected, measured and cut the wood, framed it, then nailed the roof, sides and floor. I felt proud of my creation and so happy to see Champ enjoy it. The materials of earth and I were in a team working to have a good effect on another living being. I was asserting my deepest desire--to know and be fair to the world. And I had this happiness at other times--meeting a baseball solidly, or having my mind energetically engaged in understanding the logic of an algebraic equation. 

         But I couldn't distinguish between this feeling of happiness and the quick jolt of excitement I felt, for example, when I'd be greeted with, "Ah come bella!", "Oh, how handsome!" by my favorite aunts.  At such times I'd feel a warm inner glow as everything outside me seemed to fade into dullness. "Vanity", said Mr. Siegel, "makes us cross eyed or dim sighted." 

1. Is The Picture We Have of Ourselves Accurate?

"People want to be happy, [said Mr. Siegel] but they want to be happy on their terms, because they also want to have a good picture of themselves. The matter of vanity when understood will be seen as against happiness." [The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known ,#1570.]
         Increasingly, I tried to maintain a picture of myself as a superior being.  For example, I felt carpentry, which I loved, was not prestigious enough.  A man of my caliber should have a flashy job and make a lot of money-- quickly.  When I stopped playing baseball I decided to be a stock broker.  The man interviewing me asked, "Suppose you recommended a stock to a family and they lost money, how would you feel?" "Terrible," I said. He left the room and came back with someone from "back office operations" saying I'd be more suited for that. I felt humiliated. I knew how I should have answered his question, but felt I couldn't. I took the job even as something gnawed in me. Then, some weeks later in a meeting, I criticized the partner in charge of operations for the unjust way he spoke about some of the workers. Shortly after, I was fired.  But even as I objected to the contemptuous way people were seen, I felt my happiness was to do what I wanted, when I wanted, without having to think about or answer to anyone. I felt increasingly miserable and unsure. 

         When I began to study Aesthetic Realism and learned about the fight in me between vanity--conquering the world--and knowing it, I began making choices that gave me the rock solid happiness I didn't think existed!  Mr. Siegel enabled me to value more accurately what my vanity and snobbishness made me scorn. In one of the first Aesthetic Realism classes I attended I mentioned in an embarrassed way that I was interested in carpentry.  He asked me:  "Are you interested in the aesthetics of carpentry?"  "Yes," I answered. 

        And I was moved as he gave form to something I had felt but could never put into words:  "Would you like to feel that some beautiful thing that is useful is made by you?"  "Yes."

Eli Siegel: It is the William Morris feeling.  There is a good deal of that in history.  Lorenzo Ghiberti, of the 15th century spent 50 years constructing gates and statues in bronze.  He showed hands and mind can be one.
 Studying the lives and work of these men had a profoundly good effect on me, and encouraged expression I'm proud of.

Continued  >>"Vanity: The Great Interference with Happiness in Love"

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Copyright 2005 by Ernest DeFilippis