It is sometimes said that happiness is the goal of human life.
It does seem to make some sense. After all, everybody avoids unhappiness when they can. But it is also extremely common to have people doing things that will not maximise their happiness. Like the girl who insists on dating the boy who will dump her in the worst possible terms, again and again. Or the man who takes the job that makes him miserable 90% of the time to have 20% higher pay.
Sure, you can just take happiness to be everything people want, but then it means to some people happiness is tearing their own wounds open.
Or maybe you can assume everything that goes against happiness maximisation to be a mistake, just a dumb error from someone less capable than you are. But those mistakes are too numerous and are too close to the core of our society.
Let’s put it this way: People are vats containing brains, who make all the decision work, and who make sensations. When the brain perceives it’s own vat in good shape and it’s goals as advancing it generates the feeling of happiness. So there must be some kind of relation between happiness and what people want, but this correlation is not straightforward. It is as complex as people are complex.
In our shopping-oriented culture, it is easy to picture happiness as a simple fact, stable and constrict. But happiness is more like a way to interpret our experiences.
When i was a kid, i took “happiness über-alles” as good enough, and despised people who wouldn’t act like that the whole time. But as i grew old i realised there are lots of situations where just maximise happiness was naïve, and even simply wrong.
During events and congresses, for example, the organising committee will usually be mostly concerned about the happiness of the participants. But almost all of the fulfilling meetings are the ones where you face difficult experiences, like cold baths and unfamiliar situations and having to interact with people who think differently from you.
Unhappily, the simplistic idea that everybody wants to be happy is used to justify a series of incongruities in today’s world. Free market ideologies, for example, hide behind it, and on a deeper level even democracy harbours some paradoxes.
Life is not a menu, where you have to pick the most delicious dish. And happiness is not something you can measure and compare.
So, even if you should not ever try to feel sad or make yourself sad (that would be just dumb), you should neither run away from sadness or fear it. When you feel sad, do that with heart. Allow your sorrows to be true. And you should definitely not indulge yourself with flimsy contentment to the point you become shallow and dumb.
Growing is harder and more important than just keeping yourself content most of the time. And maybe, if we stop running after happiness like a dog after a bone, that will give us the chance to set ourselves free.