But is happiness really what we want?

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Excerpt from “The Sweet Spot” the pleasures of suffering and the search for meaning

But is happiness really what we want?

Many people think so.

Freud writes that when it comes to people’s primary motivation, “the answer to this can hardly be in doubt.

They strive after happiness; they want to become happy and to remain so.

This endeavor has two sides, a positive and a negative aim.

It aims, on the one hand, at an absence of pain and displeasure, and, on the other, at the experiencing of strong feelings of pleasure.”

Blaise Pascal was even blunter: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception.” And, to make clear how serious he is, he later adds:

“This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”

These quotes are from Daniel Gilbert’s excellent book Stumbling on Happiness, and they summarize Gilbert’s own view.

He thinks that we all strive for happiness and that this is a perfectly good and rational pursuit.

Gilbert is aware that some philosophers push back on this, but he thinks that they just have a too narrow understanding of what it is to be happy.

As he puts it, many philosophers see the desire for happiness as akin to the desire for a bowel movement, “something we all have, but not something of which we should be especially proud.”

Less graphically, they see happiness as bovine contentment, reflecting a sort of dullness.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. That was an interesting finish. I’ve never thought of happiness quite like that before. They do make a credible argument when you think about it. I don’t suppose that’s the happiness most of us are looking for. Although if we’ve been disappointed enough times maybe even that much would be a bright spot in our days.

  2. I have to post a couple of Matthew Ricard describing happiness

  3. I’m looking forward to it.

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