Debunking the Myth, Part 2: Why “happiness” is not the end, either

See part 1 here.

A popular quote hugely attributed to John Lennon (apparently without solid basis) appears time and again on my Facebook Newsfeed. It goes, 

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.

The constitution of the United States of America, most movies, television shows, advertisements and self-help books all seem to agree: The ultimate pursuit in life is that of happiness.

I have always found this assumption problematic, however.

Foundational to the problem I see is in the very definition of “happiness.” Merriam-Webster says that it’s “a state of well-being and contentment,” or “a pleasurable or satisfying experience.” Knowing how different my preferences are from those of the next person, I am already sure that people would find it hard to agree entirely on what comprises well-being or what should be considered pleasurable or satisfying. Happiness, and where and how to get it, are quite subjective, then. Which seems fine, until we encounter the following scenarios:

  • A man abandoning his wife and children because he has “finally found happiness” in the arms of another woman.
  • Spouses giving up on their marriage because they are “no longer happy” with each other.
  • A wife saying, “I deserve to be happy, too,” as she cheats on her husband who cheated on her first.
  • A minor eloping with her classmate, who “makes me happy.”
  • A teenager rebelling against parents whose rules are “ruining my happiness.”
  • A group of young people getting drunk, engaging in promiscuity and encouraging one another to “do whatever the hell makes you happy” because, “YOLO (That’s “You Only Live Once,” for us oldies)!!!”
  • A wealthy person acquiring and collecting — no, make that hoarding — things that “make me happy,” while abject poverty pervades in her community.

Have you ever met anyone who regretted doing something they’d thought would make them happy, because it turned out whatever happiness they’d gained from it was short-lived while the negative consequences remained? I know I have. In fact I myself have been in that predicament. Write me a private note and maybe I’ll tell you about it.

Have you ever heard someone say, “If only I have ________, then I will be happy?” How about someone who said that line and then confessed later how the thing he/she thought would make him/her happy did not at all do that?

I love this line from Neil Gaiman:

It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you see what I mean. – The Graveyard Book

I’ve been there, too.

Further, I wonder what kind of world we would have if every single person relentlessly and single-mindedly pursued what he/she felt would make him/her happy.

Oh wait…I guess I need not wonder so much. I just have to take a good look at how our world is now.

So.

Don’t you think there must be something more than happiness for us to pursue in this life? 

(To be continued.)

 

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