We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
What is needed is a renewed humility. We are not the masters of the sources of happiness; they ever elude the appointments we make with them, springing up when we least expect them and fleeing when we would hold them close. The excessive ambition to expunge all that is weak or broken in body or mind, to control moods and states of soul, sadness, chagrin, moments of emptiness—all this runs up against our finitude, against the inertia of the human species, which we cannot manipulate like some raw material. We have the power to avoid or to heal certain evils, yes, but we cannot order happiness as if it were a meal in a restaurant.
The Western cult of happiness is indeed a strange adventure, something like a collective intoxication. In the guise of emancipation, it transforms a high ideal into its opposite. Condemned to joy, we must be happy or lose all standing in society. It is not a question of knowing whether we are more or less happy than our ancestors; our conception of the thing itself has changed, and we are probably the first society in history to make people unhappy for not being happy.
Readers know that, much as I value whatever joy and contentment come my way, I find "happiness" difficult to define and, furthermore, do not view it as a particularly meaningful or important goal of life as if is often defined. For example, if performing painful or sacrificial duties is what is satisfying to you, then how can you construct a universal definition of "happiness" when the word may mean "ease and comfort" to another person?
Christians will sometimes differentiate between happiness and joy, the former being more ephemeral and superficial, the latter deeper and more lasting. It is certainly as much a Greek as a Hebrew idea, that a virtuous life ultimately produces more satisfaction, even if any snapshot moment might be an unhappy one.
As most of humanity starved until 1700, and even up to 1900, were in hunger part of every year (and don't even start on injury and disease), I don't think the question of happiness came up in quite the same way. We are in new territories of comfort, but somehow are less satisfied. My suspicion is that knowledge of the wealth of others is now more available to us, and we are childishly resentful.
Assistant Village Idiot
Don't know why, but the image of old photographs came into my mind after reading this. The people were always unsmiling, in contrast to our present-day "happy" faces. I call bullcrap, on our current lifestyles and mores.
No mas. Take it away, somebody with more brains than me.
It’s selfishness and egotism. The writer attempts to indict consumer culture. But what values motivate consumption? Particularly the kind of gluttonous, self-absorbed consumption that is assumed in the anti-consumer cant?
That squares with AVI’s childish resentment and Big_Al’s photos. Kids are notoriously self-centered. And the pre-consumer folk were concerned with doing something (maybe avoiding starvation) instead of navel-gazing about their own merits.
Happiness as a goal is ephemeral. As a byproduct or consequence of something else, happiness is a reward. Chasing happiness is like seeking a fever without having an infection.
We just lost a very young neighbor, whose short, tumultuous life has made me very thoughtful. Her first ten years were full of pain and tragedy. Her next six, after her grandparents rescued her, gave her many opportunities for joy. Many of us, and I certainly include myself, would have lacked the courage and trust that allowed her to accept the joy with both hands whenever it came her way.
What it says to me is that I'm to take the adventure that God sends me, and never let myself be hardened by anger or disappointment into rejecting the joy when it happens.