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On the Nature of Happiness

Someone recently asked me, in a discussion on a mailing list, Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?

They say that the key to life is not in knowing all the answers, but rather in asking the right questions. Everybody assumes that means you can't find the right answers if you don't first ask the right questions, which is true; but there's more to it than that.

The questions you ask reveal a great deal about your unspoken assumptions, about your preconceptions and the way you view the world.

"Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?" is one ofthose questions. It's also the wrong question. It's so completely wrong on so many different levels that I feel I can't even rightly understand the misapprehension that gave rise to it.

On the face of it, it's a facile question. It makes a false choice between two alternatives that are not directly related to each other. It's like asking "Would you rather be driving, or would you rather be warm?" Or like asking, "Would you rather be a teacher, or would you rather be dry?" Being right does not logically imply being unhappy as a consequence; and conversely, being happy does not imply being wrong.

But the rot goes deeper than that.

The question assumes a false opposition between two ideals that are not in opposition at all; but worse, it implies that truth is somehow inimical to personal happiness, that ignorance truly is bliss, that having the one must mean giving up the other.

The question has as an unspoken assumption an entire philosophy: Reason is the enemy of Happiness; where one prevails, the other must give way.

If your happiness is predicated on some misapprehension, some fundamental flaw in your understanding of something about the world around you, then I submit that your happiness is a mirage. It's a phantasm, a castle built on sand, awaiting only the revelation of the truth to bring the whole structure crashing down.

Happiness-real happiness, the kind that lasts a lifetime--must ultimately be built on bedrock, not sand. It must be stable and secure enough to withstand the revelations that life will necessarily bring to you from time to time. It must be solid enough to withstand change, from within and from without.

Enlightenment and inner peace are never attained through a policy of willful ignorance.

A wise man knows, of course, that he will not always be happy or right. But assuming that you must sacrifice one to attain the other is the height of foolishness.


Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
evilkitty21
Nov. 8th, 2002 12:13 pm (UTC)
very well put!
kellyannc
Nov. 8th, 2002 01:21 pm (UTC)
"Happiness-real happiness, the kind that lasts a lifetime--must ultimately be built on bedrock, not sand. It must be stable and secure enough to withstand the revelations that life will necessarily bring to you from time to time. It must be solid enough to withstand change, from within and from without."

I think happiness-real happiness, is something we have. We have with stood many challanges. We have survived many earthquakes and we are still solid. You have made me very happy over the years. I keep falling in love with you over and over again and deeper every time.

I love you.
tacit
Nov. 8th, 2002 02:18 pm (UTC)
:)
pure_jane
Nov. 8th, 2002 01:34 pm (UTC)
I completely agree that you do not have to choose between being right and being happy, and that there is an inherent assumption that happiness and reason are at odds in that idea, which is not true. I'd also agree that enlightenment cannot be accomplished through willful ignorance.

I'm not sure that happiness based upon a misapprehension or upon ignorance is necessarily a mirage. For example, take the fundamentalist Christian. They can find great joy in their religion, which may well be based upon a misapprehension. Certainly, a lot of willful ignorance is required for blind faith-- which can be clearly seen in debates over evolution, for example. But the very real willful ignorance does not negate the happiness, which can be genuine.

Granted, there is a huge price to be paid for such happiness; one that I am not willing to pay, but nonetheless, the happiness these people experience is quite real.

I guess what I mean is that there is no set of conditions that must be met for happiness to exist and be real. Happiness is real whenever it is felt, and while we all speak about "lasting happiness," happiness, like most other emotional experiences, is somewhat ephemeral in nature.
tacit
Nov. 8th, 2002 02:20 pm (UTC)
Okay fair enough. Perhaps, then, rather than saying such happiness is a mirage, i should say such happiness is fragile; it withers in the light of disclosure, and thrives only on ignorance. It's built on shifting sands and is subject to being knocked over by the slightest tremor.

Happiness, to be deep and long-lasting, should have a more solid foundation.
wilson_lizard
Nov. 8th, 2002 02:18 pm (UTC)
The only other time I've heard that phrase, it was used by a wife to end some bickering with her husband. In essence, she was implying that she wouldn't have sex with him if he didn't agree with her. Pretty low, regardless.
tacit
Nov. 8th, 2002 02:21 pm (UTC)
Wow. Pretty low? Yeah, I'd say...I think if i were in his shoes, I'd say "I'd rather be right!" and walk out. :)
wilson_lizard
Nov. 8th, 2002 02:34 pm (UTC)
The rest of the story..
Yeah.. me too.

He just laughed it off, like she'd made a joke. They were a pretty dysfunctional couple that we worked with, and the comment was made before several co-workers. Later, I heard him talking to a group of people about why he didn't leave her, even though she was a bitch. He said " because she cooks, she cleans, she takes care of me... she's like my mom that fucks".

I'm happy to report that they never reproduced, and are now divorced.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )