“I’m not crazy…I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years.”
Ouiser Boudreaux (Shirley MacLaine), in Steel Magnolias (1989).
In his book The Art of Happiness, The Dalai Lama claims
“Whether one believes in religion or not, the very purpose of our life, the very motion of our life is towards happiness.”
But many of us aren’t so sure about that notion.
Of course, the idea of “happiness” is variable; it is not just a simple state of mind or experience that everyone shares or agrees about.
I am in general more happy overall than I have been in other phases of my life – part of the advantage of aging, according to some research, but also a matter of not being weighted down with depression.
And I certainly am “better” in various ways, at least in part because of positive mood, which may be labeled “happiness.”
“If only we’d stop trying to be happy we could have a pretty good time.” Edith Wharton
But what about the effort that Wharton was talking about – this “trying to be happy”?
In his review [LA Times Jan 1 2006] of the book Happiness: A History by Darrin M. McMahon, Gordon Marino notes, “As Americans, we have a religious devotion to the idea of our own happiness. We believe that we have a sacred right to pursue that strange bird into the forest of our lives and are even prepared to medicate any condition that gets in the way of the hunt.”
That may be the main thing about our personal and cultural obsession: we think it is our right, and can’t let anything limit or obscure the condition, and we may pressure ourselves to take immediate steps if we aren’t happy “enough.”
In his post Is Happiness Overrated?, Professor of Psychology William Todd Schultz, PhD comments, “On one hand, what could anyone want more than happiness? Isn’t happiness what we’re after?”
But, he continues, “Maybe not. I started mulling this over after reading a New Yorker review of a biography of Koestler [author Arthur Koestler], who was no happiness fan. Nor was Freud, of course, who said the two aims of life were love and work (or, more precisely, sex and ambition).”
Schultz concludes, “I guess my instinct is to say happiness is overrated. I also believe intelligence is overrated, but that’s another story. Happiness even gets in the way of success. As poet Philip Larkin once said, ‘Happiness writes white.’ It takes the lift and the wound out of creative work. One needs the wound. No wound, no high art. Anyway, I couldn’t complain about being happy. But I think I’d like to be other things more.”
From the “Happiness – Mood” section of my book “Developing Multiple Talents” – click ‘About the book’ at top.
[Photos and sound clip added – not in book.]