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Linking Up

[from Anne:] Coupla’ links to further exploration that I wanted to include here.

The first two are from postings made this week by a student in my evolution class, who asked,

can we control happiness? … I think if we have this sense of outer self looking in on ourselves, that would help us manage each of the situations. We could have an objective view of ourselves and provide input for ourselves….

I am responsible for my happinesswe are in control of how we react to things…. I can choose to let reactions affect me or not. In that sense I will be in control of my happiness.

The next lead, to Sara Ahmed’s essay on Happy Objects, which considers “happiness as a happening,” a “promise that directs us toward certain objects, which then circulate as social goods,” was provided by another student whose work on Stigma (a different sort of object than happiness….) I’m supervising this semester.

And the last  is to the work of the philosopher Daniel Haybron, who ends his study of The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being (Oxford 2008), with this quotation from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World:

Perhaps [we should?] emphasize, among our basic entitlements, our right to the pursuit of unhappiness.
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claimng the right to be unhappy.”
“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen to-morrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.” There was a long silence.
“I claim then all,” said the Savage at last.
Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders.” You’re welcome,” he said.

What this suggests to me (and this is the burden of Haybron’s work) is that freedom and the assurance of happiness are incompatible: if we want agency, if we want the freedom to shape our own lives, then there is no guarantee of the outcomes. And we could/should be happy about that….?! (including being happy about the fact that we don’t know ourselves too well? As Haybron also says,

I want to know what it’s like to be me. This is a real question, not a joke, because there are good reasons for doubting that any of us have a firm grasp on the quality of our experience of life, in particular its affective character. Possibly, many of us are profoundly ignorant about such matters, to the point that we often don’t know whether we are happy or unhappy… (p.199).

Which brings us back to Alex’s observation that she doesn’t know who she is. Do any of us? And if not, then wherefrom happiness? (Perhaps precisely from the not-knowing??)

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