Why you don’t feel happy

“Few aspirations are seen as more worthwhile and self-evidently desirable than the pursuit of happiness. These days, no one is against it. All of us can become happy, whether poor or rich, Christian or Muslim, conservative or libertarian.” So writes Carl Cederstrom in today’s Al Jazeera

“It is no wonder then that Freud – the father of psychoanalysis – is often regarded with suspicion. Categorically, he claimed that man is not designed for happiness. If happiness would fully come out and realise itself, he claimed, we would not be prepared for it. We simply wouldn’t know what to do with it. Admittedly, this sounds rather disconcerting. Yet, there’s a profound and important point here, one that is worth considering at a time when we are told, again and again, that happiness is the one true way to a meaningful life.

“It is an argument worth considering because today we are not just allowed to be happy; we ought to be so. The imperative to be happy has become so integrated into our daily lives that we hardly even notice it. We have become accustomed to the newsstands at the supermarket, lined with guilt-inducing lifestyle magazines mockingly staring back at us, as if whispering “I know you’re not yet happy”. And we have even begun to accept otherwise solemn politicians talking about happiness as the ultimate goal of politics (and I’m not only thinking about the British prime minister, David Cameron, who issued the country’s first happiness survey in 2011).

“I’m far from immune to this happiness hysteria. All too often I find myself asking whether I’m happy or not. I can walk down the street on a sunny Saturday afternoon, feeling the sun gently falling on my face. I concentrate my mind on those things that would pass as happy things, while secretly filtering out what is unpleasant. And yet, in spite of my best efforts to manipulate myself, I stumble on the answer. I simply cannot say, with any determination, whether I’m truly happy or not.

And there is a good reason why. If you are happy, you will not be aware of it. Think of children laughingly playing on the streets. Surely, they don’t ask themselves whether they are happy or not, even though their lively activities have become a popular image of joy. Philosophy reminds us that happiness is not a concrete object. It does not, in the words of Giorgio Agamben, “obtain the form of consciousness or of a conscience”. The moment you try to arrest it and make it into a possession, it immediately slips away.”

 

For more, see: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/12/201212612222558853.html

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