THE PROBLEM WITH THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
Pleasure can be pursued, pain can be avoided. Have we mistaken pleasure with happiness?
Yes, maybe we’re happy that Biden is in office. But my take is that American society, and by extension Western civilization, is officially mad, and no politician can fix it. Both crazy and angry.
It is not happy, in spite of all the different snacks available, the movies, the theme parks, the cars, the over the counter tranquilizers, the pain killers, and the rest—or maybe because of all of that. When pleasure is readily available, lack of happiness can become more evident.
Columbine and school violence are madness without a doctrine, mostly. Whatever those kids say online before massacring their peers is dismissed as mad, the crazy kind of mad.
But the madness has spread. It is possible the US´s next massacres will be embraced by a small minority of the US population, and termed domestic terrorism. Yet an alarmingly significant part of its population is sharing in a collective psychosis—or belief. One’s terrorist is someone else’s freedom fighter.
The fact that this madness could have been fueled from the White House for four years, shows the failed promise of the pursuit of happiness in the American Constitution. The leader was someone who could not have been less happy his entire life. No wonder he’s mad at the US Constitution. He obviously feels entirely entitled to repudiate, with other lies, any amount of lies, what to him and many others feels like a false promise.
The founding of the USA ushered in a time that is beyond necessarily believing in one or many gods running the world in which we live. An epicurean modernism. In today’s world, most of us assume that nothing abstract really exists and what we see (hear, taste, smell or feel) is what we get.
All the more paradoxical, then, that we spend our lives pursuing an experience that can’t be quantified. When we say I’m very happy, are we referring to the pleasure that some thing or some experience brings, or to a transcendent contentment? To something that can be allowed or at best propitiated, like a blessing—rather than pursued like a purchase? To a sense of unity and communion with the order of nature?
One doesn’t have to be religious to get that. Fulfillment and pleasure are two different things. Vibrant health and mere absence of disease are very different—and very much more different than the absence of symptoms. Maybe that fundamental lack of clarity is why the world is mad.
Perhaps the USA, and the westernized world, which is now the whole world, will return to balance when it stops pursuing happiness—and discovers bliss in being, rather than in doing.
To be sure, one has to act and, granted, if you don’t have enough to eat, have insomnia or depression, this appears really abstract. There needs to be a certain ground of balance. But if you attempt to treat the symptoms of the lack of happiness with alcohol, drugs, cars, sex, or even art, beauty, exercise and walks at the beach, or community service, or social security, alone, Columbine, outside of schools, with a paranoid pseudo-doctrine of freedom, is the shape the pursuit of happiness might take for all too many.
Changing the US Constitution, from the pursuit to the propitiation of happiness, may be required for the world to heal.
That, by the way, is truly epicurean—the understanding that happiness is not the result of something acquired, but allowed; the result of balance restored, of letting the experience of one’s very nature to come through.
Is it right under our noses?