Why happiness? I guess, my question regarding what constitutes happiness reflects in part on my personal position in life today. In general, I would like to experience more happiness. It's not so much that I am an unhappy person, this would be a misrepresentation of how I feel, but I'm not necessarily a happy person either. So I had to ask myself, what does it mean, to be not unhappy but to be not happy either? I have my happy moments, this I cannot deny. I laugh easily and I enjoy laughing, and doing silly things to help other people laugh. But does laughing, and having the ability to laugh at life, constitutes happiness?
The other day, my sister gave me a copy of the Philosopher's Magazine, knowing it's something I would devour (lovely with a dash of salt and vinegar). On page 13 there was the short article “Is Happiness Just a State of Mind?” by Ophelia Benson (1) who observes, among other things, that pursuing the question of happiness is just “one of those strange questions philosophers ask, and it's hard to answer.” Don't you just love themes?
In this article, Benson points out that philosophers, being a contemptuous bunch, disagree a great deal about the nature of happiness. Maybe this is why there are no answers regarding what happiness truly is (a state of mind?), and what brings happiness.
So it occurred to me that happiness might just be a topic that resides in the slowest hunch humanity has ever known category, right up there with "Is There A God," and "Why am I Here," and "Why 42?"
This lead me to some the questions I have pondered in regards to happiness:
- Is faith required for happiness?
- Can one be happy and critical?
- Is happiness biologically determined?
- Is happiness the smell of the puppy dog?
- Is happiness experience?
- Is happiness things/stuff?
- is happiness sustainable?
- Is happiness apparent?
- Is happiness detectable?
- Is happiness contagious?
- Is there a formula for happiness?
- Can delusions provide happiness?
- Is there a difference between fault and true happiness?
The hedonic treadmill insinuates itself into our lives, in ways large and small. As a budding audiophile, I recently purchased a headphone amplifier — a tiny black box that attaches to my iPod. Wow, I thought, this sounds incredible. At least that’s what I thought for about one week. Then my ears grew accustomed to the enhanced fidelity and craved something better. Before long, I was back on line, credit card in hand. Intellectually, I knew that my next audio fix would be just as fleeting, but I couldn’t resist the seductive pull of the hedonic treadmill.Being professional consumers, Americans have mastered this treadmill and, in the same breath, we have gambled much of our happiness away. I had to think about whether or not I fell victim to this form of consumption in exchange for the death of my happiness, and I had admit that yes, I allow runaway expectations to influence me a great deal.
But this is part of the reason why last year my husband and I sold everything we owned, bought an RV, and had a year of experience outside of massive consumption and material goods (except for, of course, an iPad, iPhone, MacBook, and air conditioning . . . ). Selling everything we owned lifted from me a burden that I did not know I was carrying. I found the ability to embrace a different type of freedom than I had never known before. Stuff keeps you anchored in such a way that you can become stuck, which can lead to unhappiness.
In class today, we discussed the movie Citizen Kane, and how Kane was a fictional account of a hoarder, a rich hoarder, but a hoarder nevertheless (Watch this powerful ending to the film here). As a rich man, he did not die happy, he did not die free, and really, he did not die rich. At least, not rich in life. If any fictional character is an example of a someone with runaway expectations, Citizen Kane embodies this example beautifully.
I think both Eric Weiner's blog post and Orson Well's Citizen Kane are two examples of where "happiness as found in the consumption of stuff" is argued against well and intelligently (the TV show Hoarders does this well too). And yet, many of us will still pursue happiness through the consumption of stuff.
Do you look for happiness inside of consumption?
1. Benson, Ophelia. (1st Quarter, 2011). "Is Happiness Just a State of Mind?" The Philosophers' Magazine. Issue 52. 13-14.
2. Weiner, Eric. (19 July, 2009.) "Lowered Expectations." The New York Times. retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/19/lowered-expectations/