Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Conquest of Happiness, Chapter 17

Chapter 17 (pages 186-191), “The Happy Man”

When it comes to happiness, cause and effect frequently are confused. Neither our adopted creeds nor our intellectualized narratives cause us to be happy or unhappy. “The man who is unhappy will, as a rule, adopt an unhappy creed, while the man who is happy will adopt a happy creed...[p. 186].” There are basic ingredients that are all but pre-requisites for happiness, such as adequate food and shelter, love and respect – for some people, parenthood could be added to the list. With these ingredients in place, unhappiness has a psychological source, which in the usual, not-too-severe cases, can be self-cured – but the self-cure is to lessen self-involvement! Passions to avoid (and to educate people to avoid) in the name of happiness include fear, envy, the sense of sin, self-pity and self-aggrandizement (as discussed in Part One). These passions imprison us in self-focus. Fear nurtures self-deception, but living a life of deceit is precarious and leaves us vulnerable to a massive shock when the truth can no longer be dodged – while the intuitive knowledge of this danger causes apprehension.

“The happy man is the man who lives objectively, who has free affections and wide interests, who secures his happiness through these interests and affections and through the fact that they, in turn, make him an object of interest and affection to many others [p. 188].”

How to escape from the happiness-robbing self-focus? First the cause of self-focus should be diagnosed. If it is a sense of sin, then recognize that cause (and its disconnect from anything actually sinful) in your conscious mind, where this realization can seep into the unconscious. If you are self-centered due to self-pity, or out of fear, then these conditions can be understood and combated, too. Outside interests then will emerge spontaneously.

There is substantial overlap between a good life and a happy life. Moralists who teach that a good life is about self-denial generate a self-centeredness (in carefully watching over your appetites) that redounds to neither happiness nor goodness. There needn’t be such a sharp distinction between an individual and everyone else. Broad interests connect individuals with the “stream of life [p. 191].” A healthy, but not excessive, interest in your own well-being promotes happiness in yourself and in others. Unhappiness arises when a person is internally disjointed (with a chasm between the conscious and unconscious mind) or externally disconnected, cut off from society. “The happy man is the man who does not suffer from either of these failures of unity, whose personality is neither divided against itself nor pitted against the world [p. 191].” Even death engenders no dread for someone who is instinctively connected to the ongoing parade of life.

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