A clear conscience is one prerequisite for happiness. You can have more money than you could ever spend, live in a beautiful mansion, own a sports car collection rivaling Jay Leno’s — and if your conscience is burdened, you will not be happy.
This is a human trait and one which seems fairly universal. Even the meanest of murderers and scoundrels invent ways to place blame upon their victims in order to pacify their own consciences.
How do we keep our consciences clean in the real world? Ronald Reagan had the answer to that question when he said “There are no easy answers’ but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.”
That’s how you keep your conscience clean — you do the morally right thing every single time. Often, the morally right path is the harder path, the less pleasant path, the more costly path, the more dangerous path — a path with no redeeming qualities other than that it is the right path.
What do we do if we have strayed from the purer path? We must find ways to make peace with our consciences. This is not a religious act, this is a human act. Religion may be able to help some of us find peace with our Gods — but we alone must make peace with ourselves.
We must forgive ourselves for our past mistakes without enabling ourselves to accept future mistakes. For most of us — for the best of us — that forgiveness does not come cheap. There is a show on television now called My Name is Earl, where the main character tries to undo all of the wrongs he has done in his life. Luckily, very few of us have a list of wrongs as long as Earl’s!
My Name is Earl does, however, give us insight into the path towards self-forgiveness and happiness. That path involves making the world a better place. Often, we cannot fix the things we break. We can’t repair every injured feeling. We can’t bring people back to life. However, we can devote our time and energies to making up to the world as a whole for our shortcomings. This is not an easy answer, but it is a simple answer.
As Mark Twain said, “Let us endeavor to live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.” That is the path which brings lasting happiness to our lives.