Politics of Happiness

The social sense of happiness is political, and a person’s happiness in society depends on the structure of that politics. Traditionally, happiness is constituted by a fair balance among reasonably good health, a reasonably fair amount of wealth or a fairly good source of regular income, fairly good family life (in which a fairly good upbringing, loving parents, fairly good spouse, children are included), and fairly good relations with social institutions and other individuals, etc. This yardstick is of course general and there are millions of common people who live outside of this fold, such people as orphans, the homeless, people living in perpetual poverty or in ill-health, people who are not married or all other members of their families dead (for example, many lone survivors of the Holocaust). Many of these people are deprived by fate or whatever of most or all of what are considered to make a person happy. For example, Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, survived all other members of his family–his wife and their two daughters died in German concentration camps. When he was rescued by the Allied Force, he had lost everything that was considered to constitute his happiness–family, wealth, source of income, social relations, hope, and what not? By the common, traditional standard, such people cannot be happy, because by the standarc of happiness only people with most (if not all) of these assets are recognized as happy, and in consequence, people without most (if not all) of these factors do not have the source of happiness.

The concept of happiness is thus an established, received one, and it rests on these happiness factors. This concept favors certain group of people while it disadvantages the rest. Being able to pass as being happy is important for a person’s growth of any kind in a society with an established standard concept of happiness, because one being happy presupposes one’s possession of most (if not all) of the happiness assets, which are most valued by other members of the society. A person well-endowed with these assets is more welcome everywhere in the society’s setting (be it marriage, friendship, employment, health care, recreation, and what not) than a person who has less of these, while a person who does not have nothing or nearly nothing of what is considered to consitute happiness is least welcome, if not unwelcome.

The contitution of social happiness standard as we see in every turn empowers some and disadvantages the rest. It creates a hierarchy, and tends to perpetuate the structure. People usually are cognitive misers and they, rather than spend some thought energy in thinking and critically examining apparently regular things, just receive established ideas about them and thoughtlessly follow the tradition. However rational we are, we just believe nearly everything floated in the news (be it on the Internet or through the traditional media or by word of mouth as rumors, or in all forms)–if A defames B on Facebook, most people take the first report at face value. Thus, how one looks to others (i.e., whether they look happy indicating they have the resources powering their happiness, or otherwise) matters.

Everybody seems to be concerned about their happiness so much in almost everything they do that happiness seems to be the ultimate purpose of all human efforts. If this is the case, are those who happen to fall outside of the established happiness zone due to the faults of their own or others’ (such as lone survivors of the Holocaust or lone surviving victims of natural disasters, or other misfortunes) failed lives which are best put to an end by such means as suicide? Many did not commit suicide during the Nazi oppression in the concentration camps–they struggled to survive. The force of life is strongand tenacious. But many of them who struggled and clung to the last straws of life in the concentration camps committed suicide after their rescue. They were at the extreme end of what’s lying there opposite happiness. Other survivors did further survive that vaccuum of happiness, but it felt unbearably heavy–that broke the backs of lives. Why did these people who did not commit suicide did not commit suicide? What were they looking up to, when everything that consituted what they called life had been snatched from them? What was it that kept them living on despite they were in the depth of the abyss of extreme despair and hopelessness? Were they crazy, to continue to live when their source of happiness (thd purpose of all efforts in life) had been shattered?


Photographer unknown

Happiness is undoubtedly political, whatever it may be in a social context. The standard is always a composite of variable values, but happiness is constantly valued in life. Most of the time it is better to be happy than not. However, we often find ourselves in situations where we better sacrifice happiness and embrace meaning in life. Meaning and happiness are not mutually exclusory, but in their wild pursuit of happiness humans more often than not mind meaning. Meaning is rich experience, and it covers the whole area of life, far beyond the four protective walls of happiness.

It seems that you don’t have to give meaning to life as if life has nothing of its own, as if life is a vaccuum. Life itself is what is alive and it is worthy on its own, without any extraneous additions. You may say bare life is not worth living, but life (because it is consciousness) itself is meaning, when when you are physically an invalid and other people in your family, despite their love for you, consider it better that you be given euthanasia, for emotional or financial or any other reasons.


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