Oct 25, 2013

The Pursuit of Happiness and Its Lies by Isaac Snow

The pursuit of happiness seems to be an oxymoron. Happiness is not a stable state that we can capture and bottle; it is rather a fluctuating state of mind. Happiness to me is a feeling of contentment, a moment in time where nothing needs to be changed or adjusted. I have moments of happiness everyday even when my life in general is not going so well. It can be sparked from an external stimuli, such as receiving gratitude from a friend, or from an internal source such as satisfaction in myself for doing something great. If this essay turn out to be informative and entertaining, I will feel joy. Happiness in this sense is a reward. This is the type of happiness that is unsustainable and fleeing, but it is also the happiness that is desired by many people in society. From birth I'm rewarded with external items such as candy or gratitude for performing certain actions, and this reward creates joy; eventually, however, joy itself replaces the reward and becomes the reward. The interaction of reward-er and reward-ed becomes internalized. We develop the opinion that we get rewards for good action; this eventually creates the situation where happiness becomes the reward. Through habit, we reject happiness if we deem our selves not to be worthy of it; we need to achieve something in order to reward ourselves. Our definition of successful actions (actions that are worth of the reward of happiness) come from habit and not from reason; hence many actions of this type are irrational and potentially damaging. If we want this behavior to be changed we need to address the issue in society, with special attention to how we raise our young.

The disciplinary method predominately used in the education system has a negative effect on the young and their development into adults. The use of punishments and rewards for good behaviour leads to adults who are unable to enjoy happiness without it being in the form of an abstract reward for 'good behaviour'. In the classroom, what constitutes 'good behaviour' is defined by the school system and the teacher; often the type of behaviour wanted goes against a child's natural physiological wants. For example, good behaviour in a student in a classroom situation may be 'sitting still', but this behaviour is in direct opposition to a child's natural, and legitimate, tendencies to want to be active. I do not seek to find a solution to classroom 'discipline' here, but to point out that these wide-spread methods affect us for the rest of our lives. Later in life, we internalize the good behaviour - reward system; only granting ourselves happiness when we perform good actions. These good actions, just as in the classroom, are defined by others than ourselves; often in the form of what society at large deems it. What constitutes a good action, also as in the classroom, may be in opposition to our natural tendencies and may have no rational grounding whatsoever. Happiness has a relationship with underlying values and beliefs, the general ideology, of society.

Happiness is measured by sociologist using objective or subjective techniques. In order to do any form of objective measurement, the scientist must first form an operational definition of what happiness is. These objective techniques are usually in the form of proxies; the scientist may assume that happiness has a positive correlation with wealth, and will measure a person's wealth to estimate his/her happiness. Objective techniques are inadequate because it ignores cultural and individual differences and often equates wealth with happiness. Ultimately, personal happiness exists only within the person and can be gained in infinite ways and measured in none. Every society naturally has its own idea of what happiness consists of. In Canada it is very often thought to occur with wealth and stability in finance. But that is not true. Happiness is discussed as a subjective well-being that one does not merely enjoy but pursues. It is not simply a state of mind that one can passively achieve but an end-state reward for action. This is justified by saying that happiness comes from the "satisfaction of innate needs for self-determination". Happiness is the "enjoyable anticipation of hedonically valuable outcomes". It involves the care of worldly utility streams. However, I argue that happiness is not an end state. Happiness does not necessarily come with prosperity and progress. It is a thing that the individual gives to himself. Happiness is a reward for success and often it is conflated with the success itself.

Happiness can only be achieved by self contentment. And self contentment often occurs as a result of external achievement. Achievement is, unfortunately, often defined by those other than yourself. In Canada achievement is defined by financial/career success. A person ends up valuing himself based on his value on the market place. Happiness should not be an end goal or a fleeting moment; it should be continuously present in a healthy mind. There are moments and periods of time when life feels to drag or bad things occur and stress builds, but contentment should always be present in a lesser or greater form. It is this type of happiness that should be instilled in our young, not rewards and punishment.

Isaac Snow
Smoking a doobie in Vernon, BC
Summer, 2012