What’s Negative about Being Positive (and Pursuing Happiness)

Radioactive-happiness-face Overhearing younger folk talking about “life”, I heard a statement that gave me pause: “All we want in life is to be happy.” As axiomatic as it seems, this short assertion does not make sense. The plague of much modern thought rests in attempting to cure itself with “happiness”: some ill-defined single mechanism or property of existence that we each strive for that completes, fulfils or renders whole our entire existence. Note: I did not say we do not wish to be happy; but this is different from saying all we want is to be happy. Indeed, as the great AC Grayling has highlighted: “The first lesson of happiness is that the surest way to be unhappy is to think that happiness can be directly sought.” Its epiphenomenal property is obvious: happiness arises as a by-product of other endeavours. From this we must take notice that to seek out happiness directly is juvenile, misguided and often retarding of the process of living a good life in the first place.

Studying psychology, one is forced to realise that no one book, one person or one attitude can spur you toward greater things; an obvious conclusion, you would think, when you read dust-covers that each states this author, this book, this practise will change your life. How many times can your life be changed before it is no longer yours? Rather your life is handed over to some quack who claims to be/is a motivational-speaker, a healer, a guru, an angel guide, a psychic, a priest, a philosopher. Often these people have had some powerful subjective experience that creates a sense of authority in attaining “enlightenment”, “wholeness”, “being”, or some other important-sounding word. Whether it’s because they rode around Africa on their bicycles, came from poverty to wealth, are able to read auras and sense angels, they all take their experiences as a reason to be considered an expert in guiding you toward happiness. (There are some excellent books about happiness – often debunking all the previous books' claims – but they share a coherence with reality; indeed, the best are classics written by Plato or Epicurus or Aurelius for example.)

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