The Necessary Transience of Happiness

Yves here. While this essay has a lot to recommend it, it also has what I regard as a tremendous blind spot. It appears to accept a perverse modern idea of happiness, which historically might have been seen as euphoria or giddiness. The idea that this state is anything other than fleeting appears to be a creation of marketing. Commercials are full of bubbly smiling people whose peppy state is the result of buying the vendor’s wares.

The world’s religions have as a major aim reconciling their adherents to the inevitability of suffering and death. The ancients regarded achieving contentment, acceptance, and the ability to regain one’s emotional equipoise as the prized internal state, not an amped-up, always-on childish glee. That is a long-winded way of saying that there are other, and arguably more direct paths to the conclusion he reaches.

By George Gillett,  a freelance writer and a student doctor at the University of Oxford. He has written for Salon, the New Statesman and the Spectator. Visit his Blog at and follow him on Twitter @george_gillett. Originally published at openDemocracy

When sociologists look back on my generation they might well view happiness as the defining cultural issue of the times. Governments monitor our levels of happiness, universities fund whole departments to research it, and the world’s largest companies including Google employ ‘happiness gurus’ to proselytise to their employees. We trade smiling emojis with each other on social networks, walk past billboards encouraging us to “#choosehappiness,” and spend over one billion dollars a year on self-help books. Put simply, we’re obsessed: get happy or die trying.

As the historian Darrin McMahon writes, happiness “is the last great organizing principle of life. We no longer live our lives according to beauty or honor or virtue, we want to live in order to be happy”—with happiness invariably described as an individualistic endeavour to be achieved through self-help, self-care or materialistic selfishness.

But this obsession with happiness clearly isn’t working. Sixty years of human progress and huge increases in GDP have barely touched the life satisfaction scores of most people in higher-income countries. For example, the United States’ General Social Survey shows almost no change in levels of general happiness since records began in 1972.

On an individual level happiness is also remarkably inflexible. Births, marriages, deaths, promotions and demotions do have transient effects on self-reported happiness scores, but they typically return to previous levels after six months or so. While chronic deprivation affects life satisfaction significantly, happiness has a marked resilience to most other life events. Why is this?

According to Oxford University researcher Michael Plant, the reason is something called ‘hedonic adaptation’—the tendency to return to stable levels of happiness after most life events. “We are extraordinarily good at getting used to things” he says, “such that very few events in life have a long-term impact on our happiness. If you don’t believe me, think how annoyed you get when the WiFi doesn’t work, then consider that humanity existed quite happily without it for hundreds of thousands of years.”

Hedonic adaptation is a well-known psychological phenomenon that has been proven by studies analysing the experiences of lottery winners and those who have experienced disabling accidents. Yet this evidence remains counter-intuitive for most of us. No matter how many studies are cited, we continue to seek gratification through individual wealth, ambition and good health, in fierce denial of the futility of our actions.

The happiness industry suggests that—if only we could adapt our environment, perhaps by finding a new job or entering a new relationship—we could achieve more happiness. Yet the evidence shows that we can’t, and evolutionary psychology reveals why. Rather than an individualistic commodity that can be achieved or accumulated like home ownership or a job promotion, happiness is evolution’s chief motivator. Designed to promote a range of behaviours associated with increased survival, the motivational purpose of happiness is revealed by its tendency to dissipate soon after the achievements it inspires. That’s why the ideal of constant euphoria marketed by the happiness industry is impossible: it flies in the face of the physiological basis of happiness itself.

Why else would we put such thought, effort and care into our own futures if not for the promise of happiness? Just like an addict longing for another dose of drugs, hedonic adaptation leaves us forever chasing greater happiness—and crafting a future that searches for but never finds it. The transience of happiness is completely unremarkable in this sense; evolution cares only for our survival, not our experience of surviving.

What is most surprising about the evolutionary mechanism of hedonic adaptation is how skilfully it has been co-opted by the powerful in society. Our economies depend on that elusive promise of happiness, which also provides companies with industrious employees. Governments promote home ownership, ensuring that people take out mortgages and other debts, which helps to guarantee an obedient workforce who must pay them off. Even social traditions like marriage have their roots in the illusion of utopian happiness, despite being criticised for upholding patriarchal attitudes. In a social Darwinist world, it is the most ruthless who take advantage of these evolutionary myths. What then, can we do?

Before making a diagnosis, a good psychiatrist always asks for a patient’s own thoughts and perspectives of their symptoms. When diagnosing a patient with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, for example, particular attention is paid to the level of distress a patient attributes to their obsessive thoughts. It’s an introspective and reflective approach common in the management of mental health conditions, derived from the principle that the guiding factor for intervention should be a patient’s own experience of their condition.

The approach of the happiness industry couldn’t be more different. Rather than asking whether individuals are comfortable with their own melancholy, we are bombarded with indiscriminate campaigns which tell us that such feelings are unhealthy, unnecessary and undesirable. Last year a group of psychologists at the University of Melbourne in Australia set out to investigate whether such an approach was helpful. What if campaigns encouraging us to perfect our experiences were actually making our lives less pleasurable?

The researchers encouraged over 100 participants to document how they felt in a daily diary for a month, as well as how much social pressure they experienced urging them not to feel too ‘down.’ Interestingly, the researchers identified a measurable relationship between the two; more social pressure not to feel depressed reliably predicted increased symptoms of depression the following day.

Having identified this correlation, the team investigated further. What if the social environment which pressures a person to be happy could be recreated in order to monitor its effects? To test this hypothesis the researchers separated participants into two groups; one to undertake a series of tasks in a “happy room” decorated with motivational posters and positive imagery; and the other to perform a series of tasks in a room that was plain. It turned out that the “happy room” group were three times more likely to ruminate over the tasks they failed to accomplish, and that was associated with a higher rate of depressive symptoms.

This research is far from conclusive, but it should serve as a warning: our cultural obsession with happiness risks transforming society into a place intolerable to melancholy, where we are made to feel as though our lives are failing if we aren’t happy all the time—a scaled-up version of that “happy room.” Meanwhile, the happiness industry continues to sell us the biological lie that a constant state of happiness is actually achievable, which achieves nothing but addiction to the happiness industry itself and its products.

We often think of our lives as going somewhere. The structures we’re taught from an early age—in which we graduate from one class to the next and then on to high school and university—provide us with a framework through which we approach other areas of life. Hence we progress from renting to home ownership, dating to marriage and work to retirement. Yet with each of these supposed achievements, hedonic adaptation returns us to the beginning, and we are left yearning once more for that illusory utopia of constant happiness.

That is, until we realise that life has passed us by. Nearing the end of his own life, the philosopher Alan Watts described this flawed way of thinking:

“We thought of life by analogy with a journey, a pilgrimage which had a serious purpose at the end. Success, or maybe heaven after you’re dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing and we were supposed to sing or dance while the music was being played.”

Contemporary analyses of happiness are consistent with Watt’s decades-old lesson. “If you look at what people actually do to be happier, it seems nearly everyone tries to change the external facts,” says Michael Plant. “We try to become richer, thinner, more successful, to find a better house. A few of us think about trying to spend less time working. Almost no one thinks about actively retraining the way they think.”

Plant recommends mindfulness-based stress reduction, a technique which “helps people accept, rather than fight, negative emotions and so reduce the suffering they cause.” The principle isn’t to fetishize happiness but almost to ignore it completely, encouraging people to enjoy the present regardless of whether it can be classified as ‘truly happy.’ Strategies include meditation, muscle relaxation and non-judgemental awareness of daily life.

Such techniques have been criticised for seemingly ignoring injustice and encouraging people to ‘think their way out of’ oppression. These are important concerns, but we should be equally wary of the ways in which capitalist societies use the concept of happiness for their own ends. By selling a myth about the nature of happiness, capitalism creates atomistically-ambitious but socially-obedient individuals who can be distracted from collective values and aspirations.

The risk is not only that social ties are weakened but that individuals are permanently dissatisfied. If we are encouraged to pursue a vision of constant, utopian happiness, we may begin to approach moments of transient happiness with entitlement rather than gratitude, regardless of our relative fortunes. Our joyful experiences may then come to be viewed as glimpses of what should be achieved permanently rather than precious moments to cherish for their own merit.

To return to Alan Watts, the solution might be to move away from the analogy of life as a pilgrimage towards something very different: life is best understood as a piece of music, and a beautiful one at that. Why would we want to wish it away in the hope of one spectacular note at the end?

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  1. Ape

    Evolutionary psychology is the phrenology of the 21st century. It’s an impossible endeavor so anyone who claims to do it is scamming you.

    1. H. Richardson

      An interesting discussion of “positive emotions” by Dr June Gruber adds to this essay about happiness

  2. JTMcPhee

    I guess the corollary to the thesis might be stated as “the necessary permanence of misery”? By inspection, looking around through my own particular perceptual lenses, that seems to be incontrovertible…

    1. Bill Smith

      Hopefully it is not misery but merely a lower level of happiness.

      Or is that ‘glass half full’ v ‘glass half empty’?

    2. jrs

      OTOH I know my own particular perceptual lens might not be everyone’s. I know I score extremely high on the negative emotionality (neuroticism in the old language) part of the Big Five test as does my partner. And yet someone out there must not be scoring high or else the test would be pointless in measuring anything, and that test is actually considered to have some validity.

    3. polecat

      Isn’t that why we’re all here ?
      After all .. Misery DOES love company !
      Just don’t get hobbled by her ..

      All kidding aside, it’s the little and/or fleeting, experiances of joy & wonder that most fill my happiness quotient. The hard part is to slough-off the constant bombardment Bernaisian dreck, as well as persuading others to do the same !!

  3. Arizona Slim

    Oh, goodie. A whole essay on bright-siding. Matter of fact, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a book about it. Link:

    Key point from the linked page: “Nowhere, though, has bright-siding taken firmer root than within the business community, where, as Ehrenreich shows, the refusal even to consider negative outcomes—like mortgage defaults—contributed directly to the current economic crisis.”

    Boy, does that one ring true. One of my friends just left an organization because (gasp!) he said something negative during a meeting. What a bad boy he was.

    After the meeting, he had, shall we say, a vigorous discussion with management. The result of that meeting was his departure.

    No matter, he’s still my friend.

    1. ScottS

      I’m leaving my current job because my thin-skinned boss can’t take mild criticism of people in his department who are completely failing to do their jobs. He’s decided to shoot the messenger instead.

  4. curlydan

    While “fetishiz[ing] happiness” does seem more popular lately and often a marketing ploy, I think it’s been around for a long time. Pascal’s Wager always seemed to me to be a woeful example of this. Somehow, getting to heaven is going to provide infinite happiness even if the chances are small that a Christian God and heaven exist, so you’d be crazy not to want to try to be Christian, right?

    As alluded to above, mindfulness and the unmentioned Buddhism might provide a better perspective on happiness. Feelings are fleeting, and happiness does not exist without sadness. Contentment and seeing and watching the happy and sad feelings go by probably is a better state. [P.S. I’ve practiced Buddhism but largely abandoned it, so I’m not try to convert anyone here]

    I always wondered why Pascal couldn’t realize that an infinite life of “bliss” in heaven would eventually turn into nothingness. You won’t feel happiness if you can’t remember or feel sadness.

    One other thought–has anyone noticed how often happiness is portrayed by people walking around drinking coffee in their warm paper cups and chatting? I think in a few years, we’ll look back at this time and see that coffee has become the new cigarettes. The socially acceptable way we kick back with friends.

    1. .juliania

      Dostoievski has it better than Pascal, I think. To paraphrase him, in his last novel, we humans are given a brief space of time in which to live and love, and that incredible gift given as well to all other living things, we squander at our peril, so we ought to do our best to appreciate what we have been given while we have it., and use it well.

      This is the message of the Gospel of John in particular, which doesn’t end with Jesus ascending into heaven as viewed from the top of a mountain, but in the dark by the seaside, Jesus walking with the fishermen friends he loves.

      We christians remember this week (or next week for Orthodox christians) that Peter cried bitterly after denying Christ three times, but I think it is more important to remember that later, by the sea, was the critical test. Peter passed that one.

    2. Spring Texan

      I don’t get this: “You won’t feel happiness if you can’t remember or feel sadness.”

      I agree that life is tough and we all do have encounters with misery, tragedy and sadness, but I don’t think it really has much to do with happiness or increasing happiness – at all. I have never ever understood statements like this. Of course we can feel happiness without anything about sadness. Even if it’s happiness playing a video game (which I don’t discount, it’s one way the young – and me – get happiness). Happiness and sadness seem independent.

      1. curlydan

        I believe most Buddhists would consider happiness and sadness as a duality that arises in the “deluded mind”. Breaking from the deluded mind would require “tathata” or thusness or suchness. “To intuitively realize tathata is to see the truth of all things, to see the reality of the things which have deceived us. The things which delude us are all the things which cause discrimination and duality to arise in us: good-evil, happiness-sadness, win-lose, love-hate, etc.”

        I don’t think the above gives a great answer to you, but it’s what I could find in a short period of time.

  5. Carla

    “life is best understood as a piece of music, and a beautiful one at that.” Last night we saw the new documentary “Itzhak” about Itzhak Perlman. Evidently Perlman and his wife are genuinely happy people. How wonderful to walk out of a movie house feeling better than when you walked in!

  6. Ranger Rick

    Thousands of years ago, a Greek philosopher named Epicurus believed that the state all humans should aspire to achieve was tranquility, not happiness.

    My own experience has borne this out: I have achieved more lasting satisfaction by removing negative stimuli from my life than I ever did by pursuing greater happiness.

    1. Dean

      I second this approach. I have eliminated my social media accounts; cable television; and stopped consuming news (except for NC).

      My mood has improved dramatically and I am less anxious.

      An interesting side note is when watching then occasional commercial or tv show the ‘American Dream’ is so pervasive: the car; the house; the wife; the kids. That’s what we’re shown will make us happy.

      Makes me wonder if there really is a secret cabal somewhere pumping this happiness propaganda out.

  7. todde

    I spent many years trying to ‘fix things’ and make things better.

    I’ve learned to be content and to let things be.

  8. Lee

    The little hedgerow birds,

    That peck along the road, regard him not.

    He travels on, and in his face, his step,

    His gait, is one expression; every limb,

    His look and bending figure, all bespeak

    A man who does not move with pain, but moves

    With thought—He is insensibly subdued

    To settled quiet: he is one by whom

    All effort seems forgotten, one to whom

    Long patience hath such mild composure given,

    That patience now doth seem a thing of which

    He hath no need. His is by nature led

    To peace so perfect, that the young behold

    With envy, what the old man hardly feels.


    The melons, which last year
    I scolded him for stealing,
    I now offer to his spirit.


  9. Matthew Stief

    Almost no one focuses on retraining the way that we think? Retraining the way we think is what psychotherapy consists of.

    1. jrs

      the problem is many people’s lives are actually bad due to objective circumstances (aka the economic system and all it entails not to mention violence in their communities etc.) so psychotherapy seems privileged indeed.

      Getting rich or buying a new toy may not make you happy, but poverty and social inequality do make people more UNhappy or has all that research been refuted? Although it’s more lusted after than actually practiced (because it’s hard), it’s the reason mindfulness is so big in the U.S., it’s a pretty rough society to actually live in, it takes stoics and heroes just to survive another day in it sometimes.

      The article says:
      “Sixty years of human progress and huge increases in GDP have barely touched the life satisfaction scores of most people in higher-income countries. For example, the United States’ General Social Survey shows almost no change in levels of general happiness since records began in 1972.”

      I would just say: well duh, social equality PEAKED in the U.S. in 1975, it’s been all downhill since then … to very high levels of inequality despite GDP. The amazing thing is not that people are not happier but they aren’t more unhappy given that.

      1. Matthew Stief

        I don’t disagree with that, but the article above talks a great deal about how we as individuals approach negative emotionality, how we think about our emotions, and faults the dominant narrative for not approaching the issue of happiness in that way. Regardless of what we should do to improve living conditions, it’s just a fact that how we think about our emotions, is basic to the theory and practice of psychotherapy. For the most part they are already doing what the article suggests. Commercials, popular culture, and self help books not so much.

    2. Sergey P

      Nope, proper psychotherapy is about what we feel, not how we think. And it is about expressing what is left suppressed, rather than more freaking training.

      1. Matthew Stief

        Nonsense. You clearly have an extremely shallow understanding of therapeutic approaches. In general psychotherapy views thoughts, behaviors, and emotions as an interrelated system, with thoughts and behaviors more subject to intervention than emotions. Cognitive behavioral therapy, by far the most dominant therapeutic modality, consists almost entirely of thought stopping and redirecting techniques, and acceptance and commitment therapy, for example, deals with how one consciously and intentionally thinks about the fact of one’s emotion and circumstances. You have no idea what you’re talking about.

        1. Matthew Stief

          Though I imagine you think that “proper psychotherapy” is necessarily Freudian, i.e. evidence free gibberish, which is absurd.

        2. witters

          Socrates, if only you were around:

          “Cognitive behavioral therapy, by far the most dominant therapeutic modality, consists almost entirely of thought stopping and redirecting techniques.”


    1. Spring Texan

      I dunno. I like happiness and have had many long stretches of it. Maybe I’m kind of like a cow. Is that a bad thing?

      Don’t think happiness is overrated, either.

  10. Harold

    O joy, that in our embers is something that doth
    Live, that nature yet remembers
    What was so fugitive …

    On the other hand, happiness as a political concept is identified with Aristotle’s “Eudaimonia”, or human flourishing (, not as the possession of consumer goods, needless to say.

  11. rd

    My view on the happiness industry is pretty simple.

    Research that I have seen indicates that happiness increases with income up to about $75k/year and then plateaus.

    The happiness industry goes where the money is. So they look to extract money from the plateaued group by telling them how they can become happy even if being relatively wealthy hasn’t done so despite what they expected. This group has moved well beyond Maslow’s bottom needs of physiological and safety and are puzzling through the love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization tiers that are generally not money-related.

    The happiness industry ignores the bottom half which is where maximum unhappiness generally resides because 1) there is no money to extract there; and 2) more income would actually make a bigger difference in happiness than their consulting as more money would generally allow this group to move up from the physiological/safety tiers up into the more cerebral tiers of need.

    So, if you want the happiness bar to really move in a developed country, the focus needs to be in elevating the financial condition of the bottom quartile of the population. If the millionaires haven’t figured out how to be happy yet, another tax cut won’t change that.

    1. jrs

      plenty cynical and only too true.

      I wouldn’t say that everyone earning 75k has NO basic need concerns because one can very easily fall from grace in the U.S. and find themselves downwardly mobile without ANY bottom, so it rather depends on how secure that income is.

    2. Spring Texan

      Yes. Security (not just money) is a big source of happiness. Guaranteed jobs, affordable housing, secure pensions, guaranteed healthcare, public goods like libraries and education and parks.

      I’m good with trying to increase happiness. Promoting these aims as public policy is the best way to do it.

    3. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      My first guess is that that amount should be cost-of-living adjusted.

      In Nepal, for example, it would take less to be happy. In fact, over there, their GNH, is more than money.

      From Wikipedia:

      GNH is distinguishable from Gross Domestic Product by valuing collective happiness as the goal of governance, by emphasizing harmony with nature and traditional values as expressed in the 9 domains of happiness and 4 pillars of GNH.[12] The four pillars of GNH’s are 1) sustainable and equitable socio-economic development; 2) environmental conservation; 3) preservation and promotion of culture; and 4) good governance.[13] The nine domains of GNH are psychological well-being, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards.[14][15] Each domain is composed of subjective (survey-based) and objective indicators. The domains weigh equally but the indicators within each domain differ by weight

  12. economicator

    Sorry, Alan Watts? Anything quoting Alan Watts is suspect. No matter how clever and eloquent. I actually find it trite.

    1. economicator

      … but I should add, the two paragraphs that Yves wrote are actually worth more than Gillet’s piece and worth unpacking separately.

  13. bassmule

    “Designed to promote a range of behaviours associated with increased survival, the motivational purpose of happiness is revealed by its tendency to dissipate soon after the achievements it inspires. That’s why the ideal of constant euphoria marketed by the happiness industry is impossible: it flies in the face of the physiological basis of happiness itself.”

    This does not sound like “acceptance of a perverse modern idea of happiness, which historically might have been seen as euphoria or giddiness.” Perhaps I’m reading it wrong.

  14. Annotherone

    “The invisible people knew that happiness is not the natural state of mankind, and is never achieved from the outside in.” (Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett)

  15. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    There are times when contentment is ineffable.

    I’m most content when I am not aware whether I’m happy or not. Perhaps I should stop thinking about it now.

  16. Harold

    Re the contentment of cows — cows (related to whales and dolphins) do a little dance of happiness when they solve a problem.

    Render homage unto compassion!
    It guides us to the stars,
    Where the Unknown reigns.
    The joy which all creatures drink
    From nature’s bosom;
    All, Just and Unjust,
    Follow her rose-strewn path.
    Kisses she gave us, and wine,
    A friend, proven in death,
    Even the worm was given pleasure …

  17. .juliania

    Reconciliation to the inevitability of suffering and death sounds like a pretty pale reason to be a religious person in any faith, so I will politely object to that as a main purpose, at least in the faith I know and adhere to, which is Christian. I can’t speak for any other as I would be viewing from the outside as the statement I disagree with does.

    I feel it is important to say this because as mature individuals we ought to know that vita nostra brevis est (our life is short). The faith we adopt or are adopted into is about living that short life well, and that is its main purpose. Liife is a beautiful gift, and I will be just as unhappy about leaving it as anyone else, faith or no faith. And the gift is always right here, every moment, available to every living person while we live -rich or poor, sick, well, in or out of any faith.

    And the government is good that allows us the freedom to pursue this love of life each in his or her own exceptional way.

  18. JIm

    “By selling a myth about the nature of happiness, capitalism creates ambitious but socially -obedient individuals who can be distracted from collective values and aspirations.”

    And if, in addition, under modern surveillance state capitalism(Facebook, Google, Amazon and the intelligence agencies) a new logic of accumulation is in the process of being instituted–where we, the users, are viewed as the raw material for a process of data extraction that often remains outside our awareness–we may be in even bigger trouble.

    It is amazing to me how the national security state has substantially infiltrated most fields of intellectual inquiry. Tamin Shaw and others have documented the close linkage between positive psychology (including some of the writings of Kahneman and Tavesky) and our intelligence community and even the famous theorist of non-violent revolution, Gene Sharp, had close historical linkages throughout his long life (particularly with the CIA), according to Doug Henwood at Left Business Observer.

    Both public and private authority is deeply implicated in modern Surveillance Capitalism and both will now have to be confronted.

  19. DWD

    Hell, I cannot resist one of my favorite quotes. (I actually used as the introduction to my own unfinished novel, THREADS.)

    Enjoy. Hesse writes better than I do.

    “There were now and then, though rarely, the hours that brought the welcome shock, pulled down the walls and brought me back from my wanderings to the living heart of the world. Sadly and yet deeply moved, I set myself to recall the last of these experiences. It was at a concert of old music. After two or three notes of the piano the door was opened of a sudden to the other world. I sped through heaven and saw God at work. I suffered holy pains. I dropped all my defenses and was afraid of nothing in the world. I accepted all things and to all things I gave up my heart. It did not last very long, a quarter of an hour, perhaps; but it returned to me in a dream at night, and since, through all the barren days, I caught a glimpse of it now and then. Sometimes for a minute or two I saw it clearly, threading my life like a divine and golden track.” Steppenwolf – Herman Hesse

  20. Schofield

    If you were fortunate to receive good caregiving as an infant well great if you weren’t and make the effort to come to terms with it well great!

  21. The Prescription Was Clear

    From the main article:

    But this obsession with happiness clearly isn’t working.

    Isn’t it? Are they sure? How come then that no revolution is in sight, given the levels of corruption, abuse and inequality?

    Sixty years of human progress and huge increases in GDP have barely touched the life satisfaction scores of most people in higher-income countries.

    Given the total assault of the right wing on general populace and real human rights (the ones regarding stability of living conditions), shouldn’t satisfaction levels be plumetting? Why aren’t they?

    It looks to me as if the great effort to artificially pump happines into the general population was a resounding success.

    1. rd

      “He drowned in a river with an average depth of 6 inches”

      Measures like GDP are economy wide and say nothing about distribution of gains. However, happiness surveys are all about distribution since a few very happy won’t make up for many unhappy people as the range of happiness isn’t as big as the range of wealth. So theoretically, it is very feasible to have declining happiness in a country at the same time as significant growth in GDP, at least for a short while before social change occurs, peacefully or violently.

  22. Sergey P

    Thank you, Yves, for bringing up an interesting topic.

    And I’d say not so much in this particular article, which is more or less superficial crap, but rather in some recent comments, where you mentioned that people have recently become very obsessed with how much they enjoy their work, something that wasn’t seen as crucial in the past.

    To speak of those matters, we first have to define our terms. There is a rather unfortunate habit of conflating happiness as “feeling good” with happiness as say “feeling whole”, which are in my mind rather different. Any developed person must have experienced moments of extreme sadness — that have at the same time felt very genuine and profound.

    I would offer to use “happiness” for brief moments of feeling goof — and “joy” for the state of being whole with your entire existence and even beyond it, transcendentally whole. The happiness mania completely ignores joy and instead offers one a constant pursuit of the happiness hit. And it actually does what it can to give us the hit. And there’s nothing wrong with longing for happiness per se. It is when we throw joy out of the equation we start to have a problem.

    So coming back to the question of work making us feel good. If a person is devoid of joy, of meaningful connection, of transcendental wholesomeness — what is left is just to try to FEEL GOOD. So it pervades all spheres of human life. Our work has to make us FEEL GOOD, not enable us to make sometimes exhaustive efforts to create something meaningful. Our relationship are supposed to make us feel good all the time — or else the moment we suddenly don’t feel quite so good we can just dump it and find a quick substitute on Tinder.

    Therefore, basically, the constant search of FEELING GOOD from work — is but another sign of worker alienation.

  23. nothing but the truth

    one can never be happy by trying to be happy.

    happiness is the absence of
    -doubt (over the wholesome)

  24. The Rev Kev

    The pursuit of happiness is now the expectation of being happy – always. Happiness can be the sugar in your lifetime but an all sugar diet is not really a good idea. I sometimes wonder about the modern obsession of never being alone as having to do with this always-happy ideal. If you have some solitude, do you stay happy if there is nobody to be happy too? Is that why so many young people hate being alone and distract themselves with tech toys instead?
    I should really bring up the twin of happiness in the workplace and that is of enthusiasm. You always are expected to be enthusiastic in so many jobs. Maybe because it is associated with dedication. Even when it is a crap job they still want to see enthusiasm. It is something expected to be on most people’s resumes. Getting back to always-being-happy. Yeah, you need sadness to give happiness not only its context but its meaning.
    Just as an odd example, green is reckoned to be the colour of life and vitality, right? A Vietnam vet was in the bush at a forward base where everything around him was green and I mean everything in view. It was all green. He wrote that after a while it became unbearably depressing to look at. Nothing to contrast it with. Same with happiness.

  25. SouthSideGT

    I believe we took a wrong turn at ““We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” So began the rat race which continues to this very day…IMHO.

  26. Spring Texan

    I like Ian Welsh on happiness:

    As you stop the bad thoughts, as you stop worrying about the future and regretting the past, as you stop self-harming by doing what you hate or by locking yourself in situations you despise, you will find something very surprising: Humans are naturally happy.

    You almost certainly don’t believe that, but it’s true. Get rid of the shit, relax, and you will find that you are happy most of the time, that it takes very little to make you happy. A simple meal makes me happy. I listen to music and I smile. I hear a bus’s brakes squeal and I am happy because I don’t have to walk. It’s insane, really, how little it takes.

    Humans are made to be happy most of the time. They have to learn how to be unhappy. Stop being unhappy, and the upside will probably take care of itself.

    1. Spring Texan

      And from the same piece:

      I live in a single room, in a downscale neighbourhoood. I sleep on some pads on the floor. I am in debt, and I have a couple serious health problems.

      I am also happy most of the time.

      I’ll be sitting in my garret and thinking, “God, life is amazing. This is wonderful.”

      And I’ll laugh and mock myself, “What’s good about this? You’re poor, sick, overweight, and broke.”

      All that is true, but I’m happy

      1. Spring Texan

        In short, I’m just not buying this about it’s impossible to be happy and you should just be content. I don’t think it’s possible to be ALWAYS happy but it’s OFTEN possible to be quite happy quite a lot. Thank goodness.

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