If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Friday 19 October 2012
Read gnomica 1-150 here!
Whoever is happy will make others happy too.
Anne Frank (12 Jun 1929 – ? Mar 1945)
Smile, and the world smiles with you.
It’s the theory of happiness as a contagious phenomenon, and it may well be true. Certainly one feels gloomy around gloomy folks, so why not happy around happy ones. Given that Anne Frank, who certainly knew about unhappiness, could muster such optimism, one takes more than just passing interest in such a statement.
But, whether in an absolute sense true or not, it does raise a different but ancillary point: what is happiness?
Now, that sounds like the start of one of the earlier Platonic dialogues (Tell me, Euthyphro, what is piety? Tell me, Laches, what is courage?) – but I promise that my question about happiness is not a springboard for a leap into the longueurs of philosophical dialectic.
I believe an answer – to the extent that such an abstraction that is in fact also a reality has any one answer – will call forth quite different responses depending on the current circumstances of one’s interlocutor, and indeed different responses given any single situation in which the latter finds herself. And you, the reader, will have your own versions of the answer.
For instance, one would not think in the normal course of a day that the last of a wrenching toothache could qualify as happiness, as could the sudden return of your stray cat after all hope has consigned it to memory only, but both are certainly legitimate versions of happiness.
The typical answers would no doubt include the traditional desiderata of health and wealth. And that would as ineluctably prompt serious consideration of what health is, and what wealth is. And one recognizes how, ultimately, unanswerable the initial question is. For, surely, if happiness is wealth and health, then one has to know what each of those is. Fully to deal with the latter requires something like a Gray’s Anatomy listing to go through and check off… and, in the case of the former, any answer would seem to me of necessity to be entirely open-ended, and, even so, more a function of one’s understanding, and at some level an appreciation, of the functional difference between needs and wants.
Of course, happiness is also, and probably more reasonably so, an interior thing even more than it is the external trappings of one’s existence. It’s not so much what happens to you but what you do with what happens to you. And while you have little control over the former, the latter it is in your power to manage as you will. And thus it is to a certain extent possible actually to do something about happiness
This whole subject is needless to say vast – as men’s and women’s weeklies and monthlies as well as any B&N store with its groaning shelves of various self-help literature eloquently testify. I’ve even broached this subject myself in an earlier post … here.
In the final analysis, I hope I can hang with happy people and trust Anne Frank was right about it – failing that, happiness to me is quite simply not to be preoccupied with happiness and with being happy: the state is, as with so many other things in life, not an end but just an inevitable byproduct of doing a lot of other things right.