Thursday, November 5, 2009

Where is happiness?

Our class discussion Tuesday and last Thursday got me thinking about the importance of thought and it’s connections to your actions. For Sisyphus, his actions were a revolt against the absurd, and he was happy in his decision to remain rolling the bolder up the mountain to see if fall again. Sisyphus could have been angry with the world or revolted in another way, yet he sustained pleasure in the idea of revolting by doing the monotonous task.

Throughout this class, we have talked so much about our perception of the world shaping our actions or how we feel about our situations, yet I can’t help but think isn’t there a choice in deciding how we feel. We all have the freedom to walk around upset, angry, or mad at the world, but isn’t it more important to have the freedom to chose how we feel. I know some mornings the last thing I want to do is smile, interact, and overcome my exact feelings, yet when I make that decision to continue to do it even though I don’t want to my perception changes. I’m not saying people have to cover their true feelings, but I do think it is important to look at our situations and reassess how we perceive them and how they control our emotions. The philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote in his book The Conquest of Happiness, "Happiness is not, except in very rare cases, something that drops into the mouth like a ripe fruit... Happiness must be, for most men and women, an achievement rather than a gift of the gods, and in this achievement, effort, both inward and outward, must play a great part." Here, Russell is saying that happiness is a choice. It is not something that comes naturally or can found through certain things. It is a conscious decision that we each have to make whether the situation is good or bad.

Although my eyes have been opened to the positive aspects of existentialism, there is still negative ideals that none of us like to face. Merleau-Ponty points out that although we may think we are free, we are never completely free. For Sartre, we try not to act in “bad faith” yet we continue to act in bad faith. I guess what I am getting at is how one can look at these perceptions of life which do parallel our existence and overcome the angst. Where is the happiness? How can it be achieved? I don’t have any great ideas, but I think it is through the acceptance of the now and the appreciation of the life at hand we find happiness.


  1. I think Courtney rises a great point that is very interesting. The thought of "finding happiness" implies that happiness is something that we have to achieve, as is stated in the blog. I always thought of happiness as an emotion that we are just born with but through an existentialist light we see that we are only born with the understanding of what happiness is but not that we are born with happiness itself as we have to work at achieveing it. To answer the two questions at the end of the blog, the concept of happiness can only be found in our mind or thoughts. What we see as examples of happiness is what we think is happiness itself hence happiness is found in our consciousness. The way in which happiness can be achieved varies from person to person I do not think there is a set type of method that will achieve happiness for all people in the same style.

  2. According to Existentialist philosophy, it seems that we have ultimate control over our emotions and relation to the world. We can chose to be happy or sad or angry. In some circumstance it may be more difficult to feel one way than another, but ultimately it is up for us to decide how we feel. It seems then that we are completely free, contrary to Merleau-Ponty. Some emotions, like happiness, are merely harder to achieve than others.

  3. I think your point the feeling of negative-ness in existentialism, as it focuses on many times on questions on death, meaninglessness, angst, suicide, is really interesting, but also something that each philosophy would say is the wrong way to look at the philosophy. For example, even with all of these negative focuses, the point of existentialism is not dying but how to live a truly meaningful live. Maybe the struggles that people have with “finding happiness” comes from accepting the notion that we should attain the happiness “they” say is best, such as getting good jobs, good money, surrounding ourselves by good communities, living a prosperous life. Real, subjective, happiness though would be like the quote you referenced by Betrand Russel, something that is personal and created by us alone. On this point I think existentialism is really optimistic. Instead of condemning persons to unhappiness due to external factors, it puts the responsibility on the individual to create their own meaning, purpose, and happiness in life. For existentialism, being unhappy with one’s life is ultimately a reflection of one’s own decisions, and the responsibility is on that individual to create a world and their happiness within it. To the question of where is the happiness then, the existentialist would cry that happiness is absolutely nowhere unless it is created by an individual. The happy life would be one not lived in accordance to the “they”, but one that is lived freely, creatively, and meaningful, according to the will of each individual.


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