Blogagaard Ponders Happiness

This weekend I read the graphic novel Watchmen and pondered happiness. No one in the entire novel seems happy expect for a minor character (who is killed, after his happiness has been ground to dust). And right now the United States, and much of the world, is supposedly in an economic "depression", which leads one to believe that happiness is directly tied to the accumulation and proliferation of wealth. I also watched Slumdog Millionaire about a week ago. Critics have claimed that Slumdog glamorizes poverty; if anything, I'd have to say it glamorizes stupid TV shows and the sudden, and lucky, accumulation of great wealth. Which I guess would make some people happy, though conventional street wisdom tells us "Mo money mo problems".

When I was in my teens I assumed becoming a published writer would make me happier than I already was, though by the time I graduated college, not to mention the years following, I no longer expected my happiness to go up a great deal no matter what I accomplished. Expect maybe for brief, ferocious spikes of happiness that getting published has brought me and, like any good excess, the inevitable resulting emotional crash, I remain pretty much the same, happiness wise, if not slightly more exhausted by the entire ordeal. I look at my friends and wonder how happy they actually are and even if humans are really meant to be happy. The United States constitution emphasizes the pursuit of happiness, as if happiness is a worthwhile goal in and of itself, but as an artist I distrust happiness. Truly happy people (if such people exist) have no incentive to continue striving for a greater state of being. They're already happy, right? Why torture yourself by sweating over a painting or a book if you're already happy? There's no place to go but down, right? Which is, of course, why I've always been suspicious of the suburbs and their general Disney World-like cultivation of an idyllic residential environment. Each house resembles a linoleum-sided cube, as if the whole suburb is one big nursing home/office building and the buzzing of lawnmowers is actually the nursing home muzak that lulls you toward immobility and the eventual sweet and meaningless death. (And, as Tom Perrota tells us repeatedly, people in the suburbs aren't all that happy anyway).

Russians don't seem to be so caught up in the idea of being happy. Authors like Chekhov and Dostoevsky and Tolstoy seem to focus more on the idea of experiential intensity, about squeezing every drop of feeling, both good and bad, of their characters. They don't necessarily seek happiness for their characters or try to pull it from the world around them; in fact, happy characters and happiness itself bores them. Thus the opening of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: "Every happy family is the same, but unhappy families are all different."

But if we're not meant to be happy, truly happy, the kind of happy that stuns and immobilizes you, why do cats exist? And bonfires? And the ocean? And fresh seafood, and good beer? Not to mention sharp white cheese? Are the positives in life simply hedges against the cold and cruel world? Is that what we're truly seeking? Not happiness, but hedges? Reasons not to exist at all, but to simply keep going? And if that's the case, if we're really just treading water, is that good enough?

Here are some pictures from an outdoor music festival in Detroit Lakes, MN. What leaps out at you, in picture after picture, is the evident happiness of almost every person involved. Maybe heaven is like such a festival: brief, overwhelming, and with good weather. Maybe constant happiness is too exhausting but suffering, good dull suffering, is easier to take over the long haul. A truly Nordic idea.


Missy said...

I determined at some point that happiness is fleeting, but contentment is sustainable.

Missy said...

Just stuff floating around in space!

Blogagaard said...

That's true, Missy. We're just stuff floating around space. Like lint in the dryer.

n said...

"economic "depression", which leads one to believe that happiness is directly tied to the accumulation and proliferation of wealth."

I am not sure how one leads you to believe the other - depression is a dip, a low. Depending on the context, it is usually obvious whether what one means is a compartive low in economic resources or a compartive low in feeling of well-being.

"though conventional street wisdom tells us..."

ah alas! conventional and unconventional wisdom tells us all sorts of contradictory things. But I like what Poincare said, (i quote or paraphrase, I am not sure which), "to believe everything or to doubt everything are two equally convenient solutions, both dispel the need for thought."

"Truely happy people..."

Ah, how delicious the words taste.
yes, i guess, there would be no need to strive - but haven't you ever done anything for someone with nothing but the fullness of your heart?
The answer of any "why do what we are doing?" invariably leads to the eventual question, 'why are we here? who are we?' and I'll paraphrase RM here, "any school of philosophy deals with the world, god and me; and how the three relate to one another."

Do not for a moment think that I practice what I preach. That I value what truely valuable; or that i am motivated to work for anything other than a desire to somehow get out of my current situation in life.
I am just short of sugar at the moment, and I am just saying...

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