15 Aug Lapham’s Quarterly
The Happiness Issue
We better break it to you: “There is plenty of empirical evidence to suggest”, as Lapham’s Quarterly states in its summer issue, “that much of what we do to gain happiness doesn’t pay off.” We chase after happiness even tough happiness comes as the unintended outcome of aiming at something else. The discovery that happiness is beyond ones grasp results not seldom in frustration and disappointment. Luckily there is Lapham’s Quarterly to show us that this phenomenon is rather new and not naturally given. While the greeks thought you can only judge a happy life after someones death, since you have to look at the whole, seventeenth century thinker Thomas Hobbes redefined happiness as an subjective emotional state. In order to acquire the means to future pleasure, we seek what Hobbes called power—money, status, influence, and friendship are all forms of power. The appetite for pleasure, as understood by Hobbes, has two disturbing features. First, it never ends until death. And second, there is no stable condition that counts as being happy; there are only fleeting experiences that must be renewed constantly. Interspersing these thoughts with some for that time new words like “competition” and “selfish”, mixing it up a century later with “sympathy” and we got the base for our madness…
Reading all this pondering about a happy state of mind, from ancient philosophers to happify self-improvement programs, pursuing the deeply anchored human desire to be happy, we learn one thing: it is and remains a futile search. And yet, sometimes, while we keep on trying we might get some shivers of happiness. At least for an instant. At least for a tiny, little moment – while turning page after page of Lapham’s Quarterly’s latest issue.