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Ayn Rand said in Atlas Shrugged: "Happiness is the successful state of life, pain is an agent of death. Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values. A morality that dares to tell you to find happiness in the renunciation of your happiness - to value the failure of your values - is an insolent negation of morality." How should happiness be measured, if it can be at all? Which is healthier: happiness based upon achievement of one's values or happiness based upon relief from misery and terror? Should happiness be considered our most important pursuit in life? If not, what is more important? Or is happiness just a myth?


It is easy to make all sorts of assumptions about why an unhappy person would not value happiness; and indeed why seriousness might be seen as an alternative to happiness...

Or can we just say that if happiness is one's aspiration, then learning about the history of the slave trade, say, or watching the news, or indeed ageing are all to be avoided. And yet learning about the terrible things people can do to each other, and the history of the terrible things people have done to each other, is important - we can't imagine a life without it - and gives some people a great deal of pleasure; pleasure, as psychoanalysts might say, of various kinds. Anyone who has or knows children, or remembers being a child, will know how happy it can make them tormenting their siblings...

What are we going to have to do, what are we going to have to become, what are we going to have to renounce or ignore if we want to be happy?

...Happiness and the right to pursue it are sometimes wildly unrealistic as ideals; and, because wildly unrealistic, unconsciously self-destructive...

Because happiness is not always the kind of thing that can be pursued, we should view it, more often than not, as a lucky side effect but not a calculable or calculated end...

My three fairly obvious propositions are: first, in Freud's formulation from Civilisation and its Discontents, "happiness is something essentially subjective" (subjective I take it, in the sense of being not only personal but idiosyncratic). We can be surprised by what makes us happy, and it will not necessarily be something that makes other people happy...

Second, bad things can make us happy - and by bad things I mean things consensually agreed to be unacceptable. It clearly makes some people happy to live in a world without Jews, or homosexuals, or immigrants, and so on. There are also what we might call genuinely bad things, like seriously harming people and other animals, that gives some people the pleasure they most crave... Cruelty can make people happy... So put briefly - as every child and therefore every adult knows - being bad can make you happy. Happiness is subjective, it takes many forms, and one of its forms is immorality.

Last but not least - though the least exciting - is the third point: some people like being unhappy. Indeed for some people their lives can be construed as the pursuit of unhappiness. It is astounding the lengths to which some people will go to be unhappy, to contrive their own misery, as though happiness itself were a phobic object and held terrors.

...if we are convinced of anything now we are convinced that we are pleasure-seeking creatures, who want to minimise the pain and frustration of our lives... But the pursuit of happiness, like the pursuit of liberty - the utopian political projects of the 20th century - has legitimated some of the worst crimes of contemporary history across the political spectrum.

Over the moon: Adam Phillips on the happiness myth


Original posting by Braincrave Second Life staff on Sep 9, 2010 at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=319

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