Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Is Happiness a Requirement - Why happiness suddenly matters

Bookforum put together an interesting series of links yesterday on Why happiness suddenly matters. One of the links is to a new book called Perpetual Euphoria: On the Duty to Be Happy by Pascal Bruckner - you can read the first chapter of the book online.

Below the link fest, I'll post some material from that book - it's a topic that struck me as dead on. We are almost required to be happy, all the time. If not, something is wrong with us.

The inaugural issue of the International Journal of Wellbeing is out. Sabine Hossenfelder (Nordita): On the Problem of Measuring Happiness. Mariano Rojas (FLASCO) and Joar Vitterso (Tromso): Conceptual Referent for Happiness: Cross-Country Comparisons. The introduction to Perpetual Euphoria: On the Duty to Be Happy by Pascal Bruckner (and more). "The Economics of Happiness" could leave you feeling depressed: New documentary explores why GDP remains the worst possible measure of economic progress (and more). Why the Kings of Bhutan ride bicycles: Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley on Gross National Happiness, his country's traditions, and the importance of democracy. Why happiness suddenly matters: If you’re a politician, there are only a couple of ways you can tackle the falling-income problem. What types of people are more likely to be happy? There was a time when happiness was synonymous with luck — but that was then. A review of The Promise of Happiness by Sara Ahmed. A review of The Best Things in Life: A Guide to What Really Matters by Thomas Hurka (and Hurka on the top 10 of happiness). Here are 5 complaints about modern life (that are statistically BS). A review of When I Am Playing With My Cat, How Do I Know She Is Not Playing With Me? Montaigne and Being in Touch With Life by Saul Frampton. A review of Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing by Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe.

From the Introduction to Perpetual Euphoria: On the Duty to Be Happy, by Pascal Bruckner, translated by Steven Rendall.
By the duty to be happy, I thus refer to the ideology peculiar to the second half of the twentieth century that urges us to evaluate everything in terms of pleasure and displeasure, a summons to a euphoria that makes those who do not respond to it ashamed or uneasy. A dual postulate: on the one hand, we have to make the most of our lives; on the other, we have to be sorry and punish ourselves if we don’t succeed in doing so. This is a perversion of a very beautiful idea: that everyone has a right to control his own destiny and to improve his life. How did a liberating principle of the enlightenment, the right to happiness, get transformed into a dogma, a collective catechism? That is the process we will try to trace here.

The supreme Good is defined in so many different ways that we end up attaching it to a few collective ideals—health, the body, wealth, comfort, well-being—talismans upon which it is supposed to land like a bird upon bait. Means become ends and reveal their insuffciency as soon as the delight sought fails to materialize. so that by a cruel mistake, we often move farther away from happiness by the same means that were supposed to allow us to approach it. Whence the frequent mistakes made with regard to happiness: thinking that we have to demand it as our due, learn it like a subject in school, construct it the way we would a house; that it can be bought, converted into monetary terms, and finally that others procure it from a reliable source and that all we have to do is imitate them in order to be bathed in the same aura.

Contrary to a commonplace that has been tirelessly repeated ever since Aristotle (although in his work the term had a different meaning), it is not true that everyone seeks happiness, which is a Western idea that appeared at a certain point in history. There are other ideas—freedom, justice, love, friendship—that can take precedence over happiness. How can we say what all people have sought since the dawn of time without slipping into hollow generalities? I am opposing not happiness but the transformation of this fragile feeling into a veritable collective drug to which everybody is supposed to become addicted in chemical, spiritual, psychological, digital, and religious forms. The most elaborate wisdom and sciences have to confess their inability to guarantee the felicity of peoples and individuals. Felicity, every time it touches us, produces a feeling of having received a grace, a favor, not that of a calculation, a specific mode of behavior. And perhaps we experience the good things of the world, opportunities, pleasures, and goohttp://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jan/23/pascal-bruckner-interview-happinessd fortune to the degree that we have abandoned the dream of attaining Beatitude with a capital letter.

To the young Mirabeau, we would like to reply: “I love life too much to want to be merely happy!”
Sounds like a good book. You can read an interview with the author at The Guardian UK.

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