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Monday, March 17, 2008

Is happiness possible and what is it?

One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be happy is not included in the plan of creation.
Sigmund Freud

I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live....I also thought, "As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless.
Qohelet, chapter 3

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Westminster Shorter Catechism

So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.
Ecclesiastes 2:17 (NASB)

Did you know hat the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.
Agent Smith, The Matrix

God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
John Piper

If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad. If it makes you happy, then why the hell are you so sad?
Sheryl Crow, 1996

What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless. A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Qohelet chapter 2 (NIV)

Happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus, Matthew chapter 5

Let us resume our inquiry and state, in view of the fact that all knowledge and every pursuit aims at some good, what it is that we say political science aims at and what is the highest of all goods achievable by action. Verbally there is very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness, and identify living well and doing well with being happy; but with regard to what happiness is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1.4


Emily said...

Good selection on quotes.

Eccl. 2:24 popped into my head the other day

ktismatics said...

Pertinent also to your preceding post... "Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent... Future ages will bring with them new and probably unimaginably great advances in this field of civilization and will increase man's likeness to God still more. But in the interests of our investigations, we will not forget that present-day man does not feel happy in his Godlike character." S. Freud

Jonathan Erdman said...


Freud and other psychoanalytic types would be very interested in the various things that pop into your head!

Jonathan Erdman said...


At some point in the past you mentioned that the younger generations entering the workforce were primarily interested in making $$. $ buys lots of cool stuff: the newest technology for music, creativity, video, gaming, or other forms of entertainment. I wonder if younger generations 20s-30s aren't a bit closer to buying happiness. I mean, there's, like, a lot of cool stuff out there.

Ken said...

You might be interested in this news article I someone brought to my attention a while ago. It is Happiness: Enough Already

Jonathan Erdman said...

From your article, Ken:

Wakefield, a professor at New York University, coauthored the 2007 book "The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow Into Depressive Disorder," which argues that feeling down after your heart is broken—even so down that you meet the criteria for clinical depression— is normal and even salutary. But students tell him that their parents are pressuring them to seek counseling and other medical intervention—"some Zoloft, dear?"—for their sadness, and the kids want no part of it. "Can you talk to them for me?" they ask Wakefield. Rather than "listening to Prozac," they want to listen to their hearts, not have them chemically silenced.

This is one of the main points of the movie Garden State. It is a horrible movie (predictable plot lines, etc.), imo; yet, I did like the main theme, and this theme seems as though it registered as somewhat significant among the younger set: get us the hell off of the drugs and let us live!

Here's a youtube clip illustrating said point:
Garden State

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Ken said...

Yep, I would rather pursue happiness rather than depend on some drug to give it to me.

Drugs do not offer happiness, but a temporal easement of pain that gives a false sense of relief. Often times it does not deal with the problem, it only covers it up. (I'm speaking of primarily the types of drugs referred to in the article, not all drugs)

Melody said...

Ken,Drugs do not offer happiness, but a temporal easement of pain that gives a false sense of relief.

When used properly all the drugs in question do is balance the chemical levels in one's brain.

Some people need those drugs the way other people need a heart transplant.

It is not a false sense of relief. The drugs relieve a physical problem just as ibuprofin relieves a headache.

The issue is that as a society we've come to believe that we should never feel sadness or depression and so people take medication when there's no chemical imbalance. They should be sad, but they try to medicate it away.

Jonathan Erdman said...

I recently came upon this quote from Aristotle:

"Great men are always of a nature originally melancholy."

Oddly, he didn't say anything about women. Oh, that's right, b/c he was a chauvinist!

Anyway, the point about melancholy is interesting in that it reveals that historically sadness has not been considered as scary as it was by mainstream American Baby Boomers.

Ken said...

I agree Melody, I am fully for many kinds of drugs to deal with many different ailments. My problem revolves around the fact that people have a tendency to go to drugs first, as if they are the only answer to our pain and troubles. This is what the article was getting at as well. We are too willing to throw drugs at problems rather than deal with them ourselves.

Jonathan Erdman said...

If Huxley's vision of the future comes to pass, then drugs will be the primary vehicle used to enhance the full spectrum of emotions.

I think this is already starting to come to pass. For example, we don't just have sex, we have Viagra sex. Most people have some sort of synthetic substance that they use to enhance or maintain their bodies. So, I don't know if the Brave New World is all the far off.

samlcarr said...

It's interesting that in your collage of quotes you seem to conflate happiness with goodness. Was that intentional?

If happiness is thought to be our normal state, then anything else is a problem and we have to get back somehow to being happy.

Perhaps there is an inverse relationship between contentment and being in trouble. Qohelet forces his mind to observe and to follow all the paths 'chasing the wind' before coming to something like contentment.

"Yea, if a man live many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity. Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh; for youth and the dawn of life are vanity." Ecclesiastes 11:8-10 (ASV)

Jonathan Erdman said...

Aristotle's intention certainly seems to be to confuse happiness with goodness. But he winds up conflating many notions together. So, a life of reflection and contemplation (amongst other things) is a part of the "good" life, which is something of what we mean when we talk about living a "happy" life.

Sam: It's interesting that in your collage of quotes you seem to conflate happiness with goodness. Was that intentional?