Are you happy? That’s a tricky question. We’ve been taught that happiness is a must-have element in each person’s life. If you have been asked whether you fulfill a happy life, you would have to confirm your happiness in order to get out of the awkward situation. Otherwise, you might receive an unwelcome criticism, get a lecture on how to achieve happiness in your life, or…Prozac.
Even more so, a condition when you say you’re unhappy might be impolitically correct in many scenarios and drag unpleasant comments. These days, the state of your happiness is preterm for much individual success – Work, social life, family, and relationship.
Paradoxically, some of the best personalities throughout history have been suffered from depression and the lack of happiness. Music, movies, and any sort of art has been associated with sadness and the dark side of life.
A few years ago I have found this beautiful quotation that opened up my eyes for a new approach towards happiness:
There is only one inborn error, and that is the notion that we exist in order to be happy… So long as we persist in this inborn error… the world seems to us full of contradictions. For at every step, in great things and small, we are bound to experience that the world and life are certainly not arranged for the purpose of maintaining a happy existence… hence the countenances of almost all elderly persons of what is called disappointment.
The quotation above does not direct us for a melancholic life of alcoholism and darkness, but it can release the constant pressure of being happy and the never-ending expectation of a certain moment where your life turns to a point of complete happiness.
Well, if we dig in deeper, the concept of happiness is not very realistic. Neanderthals and homo-sapiens, most likely, did not exhibit stand-up comedy shows and maintained a happy life format. As a matter of fact, humans are most closely to survival and sufferers.
A brief history of happiness
First, happiness is subjective to time, culture, and personality. In olden times, happiness was a rare condition given to the few who had the ability to ‘Getting closer to the Divine’, (similarly to Budha). With the rise of monotheist religions, happiness was involved with a virtue feel. Aristotle, for example, claimed that happiness is the exercise of virtue:
The activity of God, which is transcendent in blessedness, is the activity of contemplation; and therefore among human activities that which is most akin to the divine activity of contemplation will be the greatest source of happiness
Over the years, the interpretation of happiness by philosophers has shifted forms from Ancient Greece and Rome, the Middle Ages, Early modern and Contemporary times.
In the 18th century, the Enlightenment has spread the notion of happiness. Since then the pursuit of happiness has been completely mandatory to every aspect of life, from religion and politics to work, childhood, and parenting. Nowadays the conception of happiness creates pressures that might end up in a miserable ending. Therefore, it’s only within the past two centuries that human beings have shifted the concept of happiness as not just a possibility but also as an obligation.
Is happiness the purpose of life?
Well, who knows what is the purpose of life? I don’t. Perhaps for some of us, the inspirational feeling of a constant appreciation and the perpetual feeling of happiness is the correct way of being. And yet, one can live life without the notion of the constant pursuit for happiness.
Another one who had a similar opinion towards happiness was Friedreich Nietzche:
Happiness is a fata morgana. the only way to not end up unhappy is to not long for happiness
Happiness is an emotional status of well-being, which can be achieved by several methods. The historical idea of happiness splits between those who hold that life must meet some objective standard to achieve happiness (such as work, house, relationship, etc), and those who hold that happiness is a subjective state of mind regardless of any objective achievements.
Ironically, nowadays the two approaches clash as many of us must choose between the two. In the overflow of simulations pouring from the consumer culture, we face a new dilemma of happiness. And yet, on the positive side, the abundance throughout the 20th and 21st centuries have most likely contributed to the overall happiness of human beings.
Today, considering the notion of happiness in our culture, a lack of happiness might create pressures among surroundings and feelings of guilt and ‘missing out on life’. It’s almost impossible to live life with a constant feeling of happiness and satisfaction. To ease those worries, it might lift the burden off your shoulders to exclude the notion that we exist in order to be happy all the time.
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