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The Myth of Being Happy:

Looking for the meaning of happiness

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This Talk

Richard Schoch.

Are we too obsessed with the idea of being happy? Is Hollywood just the latest model of the happiness-myth machine? Richard Schoch draws on thinkers from Socrates to now to question the meaning of happiness and when it became a human right rather than the reward for a good life.

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Kiljoy on 02/08/2013 2:08pm

"but isn't there a risk that people will lack some bite in life. Some sort of hunger for more which is what drives humanity forward no? To be or not to be happy ?"

What drove Isaac Newton, what drove Henry Morton Stanley, Mungo Park, Darwin, Capt Cook, James Clerk Maxwell, Michael Faraday... Isabella Bird, Jane Austen etc etc

I believe Aristotle in the Eudemian ethics extolled the ideal of Eudaimonia... the fulfilling of ones potential, presumably in 'good faith', befitting of a person of good ethic not hedonic, immoral, pleasure seeking.

Whilst I'm sure you could find moral failing and pleasure seeking (why should people who have difficulty with moderation have a monopoly on the meaning of pleasure? Because there's so many of them, and so many careerist politicians prepared to pander to them) in the person's I've listed, (Newton was allegedly a rather difficult man, but not immoral) for the most part I think you'll find they were of exemplary character.

Mungo Park, as I understand it, was a man of great integrity but the French Revolution raised the stakes on, well everything... on his second expedition Park didn't wish to be accompanied by a small army, let alone under the command of the likes of Capt John Martyn, but the agenda had changed and the rest is history.

In a recent book about money Felix Martin makes it quite clear that the Quaker's made their moral code work to spectacular effect (no surprise to me that Capt Cook was apprenticed to the Quaker John Walker) a very similar thing, I believe, can be said of the Jews, people who inherited the jewish ethic.

I find it hard to believe that humans will ever be in short supply of 'hunger' but certainly a great many, in the pursuit of 'happiness', will lay waste their powers in a Brave New World like orgy of excess. They are doing just that, spectacularly.

It's not so much about contentment but gratitude, not so much about ambition but aspiration, excellence, integrity, self respect, dignity. If these qualities don't lead to happiness, tough! They are imperative.

Philosophy Bytes on 16/04/2013 5:43pm

Hum I always hear mums here and there saying that they want to teach their kids to learn about contentment, instead of being happy. I definitely see the value in that, it's good to sit back on a chair, relax and enjoy what we've got, but isn't there a risk that people will lack some bite in life. Some sort of hunger for more which is what drives humanity forward no? To be or not to be happy ?

Kiljoy on 05/03/2013 4:53pm

The expression 'So long as you're happy that's all that matters', does that apply to serial murderers?

Not so long back I read Persuasion by Jane Austen. Anne Eliot, I think she was eighteen or so, was persuaded to end a romantic relationship with a certain Capt Wentworth. It caused her considerable unhappiness for some eight, perhaps nine, years. That her immediate family were either vain, ridiculous or neurotic (perhaps all of those) obviously didn't help, she had pretty much resigned herself to being a spinster.

But, she retained her dignity, and her self respect; anyone whose opinion was worth knowing, who knew her, respected, admired and loved her.

She eventually did get back together with Capt Wentworth and found happiness - and I along with many others was happy for her - even if she was a fiction.

Hanif Amini on 11/02/2013 5:22pm

An insightful and articulate talk. Our contemporary society's obsession with seeking happiness in material things and immediate gratification is clearly problematic, but surely being happy isn't just about having a long term view of one's life goals and values? The persuit of happiness should be sensitive to the idiosyncracies of an individual. we need to be less prescriptive about the meaning of happiness. What makes one person happy doesn't necessarily make their neighbour happy, and maybe the mistake is actually persuing happiness in the first place.

True happiness doesn't come from fulfilling some kind of criteria or formula. Maybe the reason we're not happy is because we keep searching for it like it's the holy grail. We need to stop talking about finding a way to happiness and just get on with living our lives. It's a false idol that we're worshipping here. Happiness is fleeting, so concentrating all our energy on it is only going to fuel our dissatisfaction with our lives.

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