I wished to share a very interesting recent article by a French philosopher arguing that the “the Western cult of happiness is a mirthless enterprise.” I cannot say I agree with everything the writer Bruckner makes (i.e. smoking laws and some others) but it is one of the most perspicacious short commentaries on the nature of contemporary life that I have come across. Bruckner writes:
"After the American and French Revolutions (the first of which inscribed the pursuit of happiness in its founding document), the right to a decent life and the privileged status of pleasure became the order of the day for progressive movements across Europe. Human misfortune would be rendered an archaic residue.
In the 1960s, two major shifts transformed the right to happiness into the duty of happiness. The first was a shift in the nature of capitalism, which had long revolved around production and the deferral of gratification, but now focused on making us all good consumers. To make this shift possible, an ingenious invention had appeared not long before, first in America in the 1930s and then in Europe in the 1950s: credit.
The second shift was the rise of individualism. Since nothing opposed our fulfillment any longer… we became solely responsible for what happened to us. It proved an awesome burden: if I don’t feel happy, I can blame no one but myself. So it was no surprise that a vast number of fulfillment industries arose, ranging from cosmetic surgery to diet pills to innumerable styles of therapy, all promising reconciliation with ourselves and full realization of our potential.
Happiness is no longer a matter of chance or a heavenly gift, an amazing grace that blesses our monotonous days. We now owe it to ourselves to be happy, and we are expected to display our happiness far and wide.
Thus happiness becomes not only the biggest industry of the age but also a new moral order. We now find ourselves guilty of not being well, a failing for which we must answer to everyone and to our own consciences.
The Western cult of happiness is indeed a strange adventure, something like a collective intoxication. In the guise of emancipation, it transforms a high ideal into its opposite. Condemned to joy, we must be happy or lose all standing in society. It is not a question of knowing whether we are more or less happy than our ancestors; our conception of the thing itself has changed, and we are probably the first society in history to make people unhappy for not being happy."
The full article is here from the City Journal
Whether one be a Christian, Jew, atheist, agnostic, I think the article makes some valid observations of how we all value happiness now, and whether in some respects our expectations are naive.
Anyway, thought I’d post it here, in Philosophy.
I am happy, therefore I exist, or do I live. :shrug: