The beautiful thing about happiness is that you can buy it in shops nowadays. At least that is what most commercials promise you. Since this product, like any other, has to be sold, it ought to be craved by as many people as possible. No wonder that happiness became a commodity, which is – as the alleged sense of life – imperative for every emotional household.
This capitalization of happiness made us forget to inquire what happiness is and whether it is indeed the most important thing in our life. Of course, there are enumerable attempt to define happiness, but for the sake of briefness we will use the term after its most intuitive hedonistic definition: this inexplicable positive feeling we have inside of us.
If happiness is the highest goal in our life, then we would logically not mind a life of total bliss, without any agony. The first problem is that happiness needs unhappiness in order to exist. This is a simple equation of a dualistic world: the dusk makes the dawn shine even brighter.
Someone who does not know sorrow would also be unable to appreciate his happiness or maybe even become bored of it. So we could solely say that an overall happiness is to be pursuit.
Happiness or freedom
However, this is questionable. Imagine a state where everyone is totally happy without getting bored of it, but there would be no freedom. Would you rather live happy or in freedom, even though you might be exposed to potential grief? Like the protagonists of Jewgenij Samajatin’s We, George Orwell’s 1984, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, I would choose freedom instead of putative happiness.
This is symbolized by Adam and Eve, who exchanged the bliss of paradise for freedom, although this meant death, diseases and decay. We are their descendants bequeathed with their decision. I believe we should be thankful for it. (By the way this choice of freedom over happiness is often used to solve the theodicy (or evil God) problem: God gave humans freedom and thus evil is a result of their own decisions.)
Also many philosophers argued that happiness is not the main goal in life. For instance, Kant – who believed that a life lived only for happiness is not a life worth living – said if we act according to what makes us happy, we cannot act morally. Therefore, he debated that the feeling of contentment is much more sublime.
Friedrich Nietzsche pointed out: “all these modes of thought which assess the value of things according to pleasure and suffering, that is to say according to attendant and secondary phenomena, are foreground modes of thought and naïvetés…”
Is a Shakespeare sonnet merely good, if it makes us happy? Or would anyone die for someone or something, if his or her immediate happiness is the non plus ultra?
Freedom and truth
Besides freedom, what about truth? Something similar had the philosopher Robert Nozick in mind, when he asked the following question: if there was a happiness machine which would give you experiences similar to those in real life, with the difference that there would be no negative experiences, would you connect yourself to it? Most people, including Nozick, who said it would be suicide, would not do it. Why? Because there is more. Authenticity, truth.
Most religions would not contradict my argument. No surprise, that Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and many others describe life as suffering, to the extent that they even praise asceticism, the epitome of non-hedonistic happiness.
Of course, happiness is one of their goals. However, religious happiness is not comparable to the hedonistic happiness which we can allegedly buy in malls. It is a non-dualistic happiness. It is the experience or the knowledge of God, the pure being. Since God unites non-dualistic happiness, freedom, and truth, it does not dispute the fact that there is more.
Lastly, there is another important aspect of God: the feeling of awe. In an experiment Melanie Rudd, Kathleen Vohs and Jennifer Aaker revealed that people in awe had a greater feeling of calmness and the impression that they had more time. It also gives us reason to be humble and less egocentric.
Anything that is enormous, too big for us to understand, and which we cannot grasp straight away is able to evoke awe. It does not necessarily have to be aroused by God. For example, nature, giving birth, the galaxy or even art could have the same effect. (Surely, these may be synonymous for God or aspects of him.) By trying to understand what we cannot grasp, we have to change our thinking. And we urgently need to alter our thinking, in order to challenge the problems of our age.
I do not argue that happiness is not important, but I do argue that it is not the only and most important matter. In addition, we have to ask ourselves what happiness we are talking about.
While the media renders homage to their gods of hedonistic happiness, we should remind us of the non-dualistic happiness, or at least, something like well-being or eudaimonia, as Aristotle called it.
If you are still not convinced, I have a last question. Imagine a woman, who is imprisoned in her own house. She is not to allowed to leave the house without her husband, and he has a beeper which locates her position at any given time. Neither is she permitted to have friends, nor to work, or to read those lovely Jane Austen books she used to read when she was young.
But still she is happy, as she either suppressed the memories of the world outside or never knew it all. Would you tell her that she is has to fight what she is being deprived of, or would leave her in her naive state of happiness? It is your choice.