Our Fixation With Happiness
  • Most of us actively try to build our lives around a constant state of happiness.
  • The problem is that very few people choose to do great things or want to make an effort to achieve something (which results in happiness).
  • Instead, most people simply rush towards attaining happiness, which they mistakenly assume will be a result of their avoiding unhappiness at all costs.
  • This neurotic, obsessive pursuit of happiness is what leads to problems like depression and listlessness (acedia).

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Why our pursuit of happiness may be flawed

bbc.com

Maximisation of pleasure is erroneously thought to be the path towards a good life. Avoidance of pain, disappointment, injury, sickness, boredom, loneliness and sadness is what is generally pursued by all, not realizing that pain and suffering are inevitable if one is alive.

Philosophers like Epicurus claim that a good life is attained when pain is minimized. But as happiness comes with loving attachments, pain becomes inevitable and even necessary in our path towards happiness.

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Anything good in life requires some amount of toil and suffering.

Writing a novel, preparing and eventually running a marathon, or giving birth requires sacrifice, patience, pain and suffering, eventually producing something meaningful and joyous.

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Nietzsche, the famous philosopher, argues that man seeks pain as long as it brings him meaning, and eventually happiness, contentment, or satisfaction. The fire of misery and suffering isn’t extinguished with pleasure, but with meaning.

If our suffering is worthwhile, we are on the path to a good life.

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Philosopher Robert Nozick asks a hypothetical question which is also shown in movies like The Matrix and Vanilla Sky.

Would we use a machine that gives us any experience we want, letting us live the life of our dreams in a virtual world, while we are lying still in a life-support system?

This choice highlights that without really doing something meaningful, our pleasures are hollow and our very existence is rootless.

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Eudaimonia, or the state of flourishing was discussed by Aristotle as a better approach towards life, instead of making it a constant pleasure parade.

This ultimate purpose of life is realized through our actions, choices, responses and habits. Happiness, according to Aristotle, is not something that one experiences, but something that is done.

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Just like bravery lies between the two extremes of cowardice and foolhardiness, virtuous action lies between the extremes of pleasure-seeking and listlessness.

Happiness is in effect connected to virtue, and any flourishing requires others, making happiness less of an emotional state, and more of the relations we cultivate with other people.

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