Happiness

I’d like to speak a bit about happiness. By “happiness”, Merriam-Webster has the following definitions:

– a state of well-being and contentment
– a pleasurable or satisfying experience

I am speaking about “happiness” in the first sense, that of contentment and tranquility.

One of the most happy countries in the world is Bhutan, and is the happiest country in Asia. At the same time, it’s one of the poorest countries in the world, with GDP per capita being the 124th in the world. Analphabetism is rampant compared to more developed countries, with a literacy rate 59.5%. This is not exactly firm ground for a prosperous and humanistic society. Nearly half of the Bhutanese live off less than $1 a day and two-thirds live on substinence farming. Despite this, in 2005 45% of the Bhutanese reported being happy, 52% reported being very happy and only 3% unhappy. I highly doubt anyone, if they found themselves in the shoes of an average Bhutanese person would not be at least a little bit discontent. Why, then, are the Bhutanese so happy? In my mind it has to do with two things. Firstly, the lack of information about the outside world. Internet and television has been introduced very recently and is not available to large parts of the population. I am of the firm opinion that information should be a human right. Secondly, and it ties in with a lack of information, is the cultural paradigm in Bhutan. Roughly 75% of the population is Buddhist, with 24% being Hinduists and 1% accounting for everything else. Given Bhutan’s remote geographical position and considering that it has been isolated from the world until the early 1960’s, consequently its cultural heritage and traditions have remained intact. Simply put, they don’t know what they’re missing out on.

In the wake of WWII, the Western economies grew at a tremendous pace, and the welfare system was expanded. There was, and is, material affluence of the likes of which humanity had never seen before. Even a “poor” person in the Western world is more affluent than a feudal lord was during the Middle Ages. Despite this, people were not necessarily more content. What is so strange about that, really? With an increased economical base and a strong democratic tradition, it is quite natural that people demand more in terms of civil rights, equality and welfare. But “happiness” is about that… just being content with what you have, content with things being as they are. This pursuit of contentment is quite depressing, but also highly dangerous. Our society is not perfect, and perhaps never will be. But we can always strive towards improving conditions and work more progressively. Why, it is one of the strongest reasons why I am a socialist. Indeed, the very notion of “happiness” seems hostile to any societal progress.

Taking happiness to the very extreme, imagine if through scientific means one was able to overstimulate the happiness area of the human brain. The subject would experience extreme bliss, contentment, happiness. It seems like an incredibly cruel thing to do though, reducing the human to basically a vegetable. Many people say that in an ideal world, everybody would be happy, but for me it seems like a hellish dystopia. It is this pursuit of happiness for its own sake which is not only misguided and ignorant, but at the same time it is incredibly dangerous. Indeed, it might be one the greatest obstacles for humanity as a whole.

As a final note, 1984 and Brave New World have been combatants for the throne of dystopia novels. Having read both, I would say 1984 was more relevant during the Cold War, but Brave New World is more relevant in our time, even though Brave New World was earlier. I suppose this image says it all.

This is also a quite good article about why happiness is overrated.

As for the second definition, that of a pleasurable or satisfying experience, nothing wrong with that. *happily strokes cat*

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10 Responses to “Happiness”

  1. Rainbow Amoeba Says:

    If you can find it (I believe it is out of print in English now), This Perfect Day by Ira Levin is a good dystopian novel about a society where everyone is kept artificially happy.

  2. procrastinationembodied Says:

    Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll try to look for it.

  3. Isaac Says:

    I think the image you linked is wrong in a key point: it features families and couples, two institutions abolished in Brave New World. This is not a dystopia, but an aromantic utopia.

  4. procrastinationembodied Says:

    Hmm, but isn’t the point I and the image is making that instead of hate and anger (1984) a dictatorship can sustain itself through happiness (Brave New World)? Both books address many issues, anyway, like for example 1984 addressing things like lottery and war/post-war Great Britain.

    You say Brave New World is an aromantic utopia. Is there anything in specific which makes you say that except the lack of families and couples (I thought aromantics could be greatly attached to families, anyway…)

  5. Isaac Says:

    It’s well know from the Antiquity that a tyranny can sustain itself with affluence and entertainment; cfr. panem et circenses. This is only one of the aspects of Brave New World, and not my favorite nor which I would remark. I think that the ways happiness is achieved are more remarkable. This regime makes happy even those who dislike it, like the men sent to islands of their choice.

    This society promotes an aromantic lifestyle and it is opposed to romantic behaviors, contrary to current society. I would need to reread it in order to assess it for the point of view of asexuality, since I didn’t know of it when I read the book.

    The arromantics I know, counting myself, are attached to their immediate family (parents and siblings) but have no desire of marrying or parenting; however I cannot speak of the others. Maybe single person adopting are aromantics wanting to form a family.

  6. Rainbow Amoeba Says:

    In a word: I am aromantic, but Brave New World is not an utopia for me. It may be one for people who (wish to) love no-one and want no emotional attachments to other people, but being aromantic does not make me unable to love, and my emotional attachments are very important to me. If I did not have them, I would be little more than a machine doing things mechanically.

  7. Isaac Says:

    As I said, I would have to reread Brave New World, but I remember that each main character mentions one friend at least and, as it was written a long time ago, the word friend was not corrupted as nowadays. Assuming you’re right, I might have assessed this society positively because of its positive points: no couplehood, no inheritance, all work is public, and so on.

    Personally, friendship means a lot to me. Being aromantic doesn’t make me unable to love, either. And anyway Brave New World is compatible with friendship, since it’s non-exclusive, and it accepted polygamy and open relationships in the sexual framework.

  8. procrastinationembodied Says:

    *Hmm* I think it does reveal which dystopia would be more credible, as most people would prefer Brave New World to 1984 if they had to choose.

  9. Rainbow Amoeba Says:

    I think that the society described in Brave New World is supposed to be ideal (by its own standards) and to ensure the happiness of the people, while the totalitarian regime of 1984 only wants to control people through fear and hate. I have yet to meet a single person who could consider for a second living in a 1984-like society, but I can see the appeal of a society like the one in Brave New World (I personally dislike it, but I wouldn’t mind living in the society described in This Perfect Day – which, incidently, is about to be re-published at last in English in a few months or so).

  10. Happiness Redux « Procrastination Embodied Says:

    […] By procrastinationembodied You remember that blog post I wrote about happiness? No? Anyway, I wrote a forum post today which was more or less a […]

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