Throughout this past week and a couple before that, I have been randomly running into the concept of “happiness” everywhere I looked. My guess is, because it’s the end of the year and also the end of what TIME Magazine called The Decade from Hell (geez, sensational much?), a whole lot of us are reflecting more than usual, and movies like Up in the Air have got us asking, “What am I doing with my life?”, and “What is it all for?”
On Friday, I read the article This is the Greatest Good by Richard Layard, author of Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, who suggests:
“So it is time to reassert the noble philosophy of the Enlightenment. In this view, every human being wants to be happy, and everybody counts equally. It follows that progress is measured by the overall scale of human happiness and misery. And the right action is the one that produces the greatest happiness in the world and (especially) the least misery. I can think of no nobler ideal.”
Now, I won’t go into what exactly constitute happiness, because that in itself is a giant black hole, and it’s the crux of the argument that what Richard Layard proposes is not practical, nor desired, as this dude said in the counter-essay: The pursuit of happiness is a fool’s errand.
“For one thing, pain too will be part of any rich human life as, say, when people fall in love. For another, pleasure comes in all sorts of different guises that can no more be compared than can the joy of reading a book with the buzz of dancing until dawn.
Today’s utilitarians believe they have overcome this difficulty, since we can now observe people in scanners: pleasure centres light up in the brain, producing an apparently objective measure.
Only it isn’t. The problem is that there is no way to read a brain directly: no grey fold or ganglion is pre-labelled ‘happiness'”. – Mark Vernon
I very much see where these two guys are coming from. Today my friend Andy briefly talked about why we haven’t been out and about partying as much like we used to, and I mentioned what my senior yoga teacher Judith Lasater said in an interview:
“There’s a difference between fun and enjoyment. Fun is something I might want to do to get away from my life and enjoyment is something I can bring into my life. With fun, I’m thinking of trying to escape for the moment. Enjoyment is something that brings me into my life. It is the attitude I have within my life.”
It’s not a stretch to say that we are all pursuing something called happiness. We all want to have fun, to enjoy life, to be happy. Why then, does happiness seem so elusive? I have a couple theories, but I want to hear from you. What do you think? What’s your definition of happiness? And according to that, are you happy?
You don’t want to see my unhappy face, trust me.