Thoughts on Happiness
Happiness. Just what is it? Is it a state of mind, a feeling, a condition? Money doesn’t buy it. The Founding Fathers lumped the “pursuit of happiness” in with life and liberty, but they did not imply you would ever catch happiness, just pursue it. It is touted as the prime motivator of human behavior. We are pleasure seeking creatures; that pleasure will bring us happiness.
Whatever its meaning, it is given a bit of weight. I’m sure the founders did not imply the “pursuit of happiness” to mean the sensation you get after finishing a great meal. It was important enough to make it into the Declaration of Independence, but nowhere do they mention “pursuit of dry musket powder”. One source is cited to say this about happiness, “In the context of the Declaration of Independence, happiness was about an individual’s contribution to society rather than pursuits of self-gratification.” – http://blog.dictionary.com/happiness/ Personally, I find that interpretation to be total hogwash. One does not derive happiness from contributing to society because to do so would lend significant weight to the mores and ethics of that society. Could we say that Germans who cooperated with the Nazis were simply pursuing happiness by furthering the blonde-hair-blue-eyed objectives for a cohesive and genetically pure fatherland?
To understand the meaning of happiness, we have to look to the root word, happy. The dictionary defines it thusly:
adj. hap·pi·er, hap·pi·est
1. Enjoying, showing, or marked by pleasure, satisfaction, or joy. See Synonyms at glad.
2. Cheerful; willing: happy to help.
3. Characterized by good luck. See Synonyms at fortunate.
4. Being especially well-adapted; felicitous: a happy turn of phrase.
5. a. Characterized by a spontaneous or obsessive inclination to use something. Often used in combination: trigger-happy.
b. Enthusiastic about or involved with to a disproportionate degree. Often used in combination: money-happy; clothes-happy.
Not a lot of help there, but it speaks to a feeling rather than a condition, and not immune to subjectivity. One could say that doing harm to another brings about happiness, but only on behalf of the one doing the harm. The person being harmed is assuredly not happy. This would imply that our happiness is subject to external forces. But is it? There are degrees of circumstances that would cause happiness in some, while others would only respond favorably to greater degrees. A dollar given to a poor man may easily induce happiness, where if given to a wealthy man may produce apathy or insult. You get the point.
We are born happy, or ignorance is bliss.
I have yet to see an ad for Similac with Levitra. I think it’s safe to say that notwithstanding some gestational chemical imbalance, children are essentially happy. If there is anything that has absolutely nothing, it is a child. Yet, when you watch them, they smile spontaneously, laugh, engage… Of course, they cry too, but that is not a cry of unhappiness, it is a means of communicating hunger, tiredness, discomfort… Possessing nothing but heads guided by instinct, they have yet to be taunted by greed, jealousy, materialism. They want for nothing. Instinctively, they seek only what is necessary to avoid pain, fear, discomfort. It is this condition, the absence of uncomfortable things, which can be defined as happiness.
I must admit, my recollection of infancy, and most of childhood, is almost non-existent. Mentally thumbing back through the book that is my life, I can vaguely recall times where the things which gave me distress, school, the doctor, long car trips were, in retrospect, very insignificant, yet disquieting. I didn’t know what I wanted in order to be happy, but I knew what I didn’t want. Memories of happiness are supplanted by memories of unhappiness. Think about moments of happiness and unhappiness. The ones of unhappiness produce the strongest and most vivid memories. I recall times when something was so pleasurable that I laughed until I cried and my sides hurt. But thinking about them does not produce the same extreme physiological response. Then again, there are times of trauma and heartbreak. Thinking about them in-depth can bring about sobbing and depression. Unhappiness is much more vivid.
Now read on. That same book builds page after page and chapter after chapter. In the usual course of life, if we dog ear the pages of happiness and bookmark the pages of unhappiness the bookmarks will win. Label the bookmarks with the cause of unhappiness. There will be things like debt, disappointment, unemployment, aging, illness… Of those things, I posit that the majority of them are things we create ourselves. The state of unhappiness experienced by many is generally accepted because of the things we receive in exchange; things that do not necessarily make us unhappy, but rather distract us from life to where we become desensitized to the general malaise. People grumble and bitch about the job that affords them credit worthiness in amassing more debt, but few will modify their material acquisition to stay the mounting debt, and therefore, the perpetual corporate conscription. The house, car(s), boat, patio furniture, pool table… do not necessarily result in happiness. If one can break free of the conditioning of wanton consumerism there would be some who would be happier quitting their jobs, seeing employment commiserate with their lifestyle, and divesting themselves of the trappings ascribed to successful people.
Happiness is all in your head.
Regardless of one’s station in life, I think there are many who, despite physical suffering, manage to find happiness in this life. I’ve met more “poor” people who displayed a “happier” demeanor than well-off people. Affluent people seem more preoccupied with protecting or maintaining what they have acquired than enjoying it. This is not to say that some things do not make life easier or more enjoyable. I’m writing this on a very nice laptop, sipping Starbucks, and looking at my very nice Awol Comp outside the window. Do I sense happiness from these things? The laptop is a very nice tool that, in my pre-computer years, was not even envisioned when I wrote everything in a notebook. My bike does not give me happiness, but the feeling I get riding it does. I would ride a rust bucket of a bike if that’s all I had. My Awol is nice, but not necessary. My truck is a junker that I admit to neglecting, somewhat. I don’t drive, so my priority is to have it around for an emergency, and the condition reflects its purpose.
Here we are back, full circle. Happiness. Is it stuff, or a feeling? Is it internal or external? As I mentioned earlier, it is an absence of discomfort and a state of inner peace. The external world will do what it will, but we choose how we let it affect us. If we subject ourselves to the culture, internalize that which is presented to us as the norm but fail to meet that expectation, we are unhappy. When we can look outside ourselves and recognize that we have the power to accept circumstances or distance ourselves from them then we are no longer under control. For me, that is my state of happiness. The absence of external authority, particularly coercive authority. I do not care that some have formed a government or religion for their own purposes. What I care about is those institutions deeming to possess some inherent natural authority to inject themselves into my life. That is why I’m an Anarchist. The absence of external coercive authority is a state of happiness. The absence of pain and disease is also. The absence of freezing rain when riding my bike. Point is, happiness isn’t what you have, it’s what doesn’t have you.