Do You Wanna Be Happy?

Do You Wanna Be Happy?

by MICHAEL RASPUZZI

Do you wanna, do you wanna to be, happy? I said do you wanna, do you wanna to be, free? Free from pain, free from scars, free to sing, from bars…free from bills, free from pills…do you wanna, do you wanna to be happy?
— J. Cole (a hip-hop artist whose Forest Hills Drive was nominated to best rap album of the year in the 58th annual Grammy Awards.

By intertwining the inquiry between seeking a state of happiness and freedom, J. Cole supposes a particular definition of what it means to be happy. He likens happiness to being unbounded by limits: neither bounded by the plights and struggles of daily life (such as pain from the past, concerns of financial security, or temptation from addiction) nor by the limits of individual desires and expressions (such as singing and writing). This contemporary rap artist is one in a line of the many—scientists, theoreticians, psychologists, philosophers, architects, spiritual leaders, and average people—who have all contemplated what it means to be happy and how to actively attain it.

In Charles Eisenstein’s The Ascent of Humanity, there is a hypothesis that contemporary society is plagued by unhappiness resulting from a societal disconnect from nature and from the human self. Eisenstein, teacher at Penn State and current author and public speaker, traces human history back to the advent of fire: what he claims was one of the first technological advances that created a true distinction between humans and nature. From such contradictory conditions of light and warmth near the fire—and darkness and cold away from it, Eisenstein contends that new developments in technology, science, and economics have approached answering the question of happiness. Much like emerging technologies revolved around engineering machines of maximum efficiency, the attitude of attaining happiness was one that reflected optimizing quantifiable metrics, such as serotonin and hormonal levels. As progress in hard sciences became about forced control of the physical environment through new revealed understandings from experiments, insights in the soft sciences—such as psychology and sociology—became about controlling the inner environment of the individual through specific theories of happiness. And as economies developed into the increasing production of more and more goods, the correlation was drawn between equating more goods to more happiness. This disjointed, material approach to happiness—through the compartmentalized pursuits of individual fields—led to fragmented sensations of relative success from a technical, psychological, sociological, and economic perspective.

...there is a hypothesis that contemporary society is plagued by unhappiness resulting from a societal disconnect from nature and from the human self.

One answer to overcome this fragmentation was explored by Howard Cutler, M.D., American practicing psychiatrist and expert in the science of human happiness, in collaboration with the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism. The result is an extended dialogue between the Dalai Lama’s personal insight on the subject of happiness, which is grounded in his monastic studies of the tenets of Tibetan Buddhism and various personal experiences, and Cutler’s reflection on this newfound relation between nontheistic underpinnings of happiness combined with his own perspective of the subject through the people he has worked with as a psychiatrist. When Cutler asks the Dalai Lama if he ever feels lonely—the root of many of his own patient’s unhappiness (and his assumption that there must be a time where such an esteemed spiritual leader feels alone in the world)—he is surprised by The Dalai Lama’s response of, “No.” By establishing the purpose of life as the pursuit of happiness, the Dalai Lama discusses the importance of the inner control of one’s perception on the vicissitudes of life. He believes the mind has the power to reinterpret and create new perspectives on happenings that are only seemingly unfavorable; and moreover, he claims that the acceptance of the ubiquity of this purpose creates a commonality for connection to spur compassion. Compassion he defines as the ability to remain open to another living being’s struggle to find happiness caused by incurred suffering.  He states that no matter who he encounters, he maintains an open positive outlook towards the other person in order to allow for the possibility of connection through an exchange in conversation. While providing this open potential does not always lead to a reciprocated relation to one another, the Dalai Lama states that continuing his concentration on compassion is contiguous to cultivating his capacity for happiness.

[The Dalai Lama] believes the mind has the power to reinterpret and create new perspectives on happenings that are only seemingly unfavorable; and moreover, he claims that the acceptance of the ubiquity of this purpose creates a commonality for connection to spur compassion.

Similarly, remarks from weekly visits in Tuesdays With Morrie, echoes the importance of cultivating relationships with others and subsequently finding happiness: “The way to get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” Morrie, a university professor diagnosed with a terminal illness contemplating his life, states that the inability to recognize and prioritize this stems from the individual focus of egotistical pursuits, such as careers, money, and family, and the absence of stopping to reflect on what transcends these transient transactions.  While these inquiries are most pertinent to protagonist Morrie as he questions how he wants to spend his final moments, he states that he has prioritized connecting with others over his obligations at work for a majority of his career which enables him to keep his peace of mind, and ultimately remain happy until the end.

This essential role of relationships has been previously reconciled with the pursuit of happiness. In ancient Greece, Epicurus, a philosopher who lived two hundred years after Plato, believed the role of philosophy—literally translating into “love of wisdom,”—was in questioning what made a good or happy life and applying it (beyond just thinking about lessons) into practical applications. [6] He wrote on the ideals of pursuing a good life and the importance of the inclusion of friendship, or love (philia). In the Vatican Saying line 52, he poetically poses: “Friendship goes dancing around the world, announcing to all of us to wake up to happiness.” Epicurus further posits in lines 56 and 57 that the if torture of a friend would be felt by a wise man as if it were his own, and would die for the friend rather than betray him, the less would his life be confounded by distrust and complete upset. These altruistic statements are justified by the same logic he uses to argue for living justly: “only by living in such a way that loyalty to friends is perceived to be a consummate value will one be able to feel secure in one’s friends, and thus maximize one’s felicity.”

Similarly, remarks from weekly visits in Tuesdays With Morrie, echoes the importance of cultivating relationships with others and subsequently finding happiness: “The way to get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” 

Epicurus affirms with the Dalai Lama the belief in life’s unique goal as that of being happy. He discusses the ideal of achieving ataraxia, which translates to the “absolute tranquility of the soul.” [6] This state is reached by overcoming imaginary and superstitious fears and finding contentment in basic needs and qualities of pleasure. This more closely relates to the philosophy of Zen Buddhism, a discipline that focuses on a methodology on magnifying mannerisms that mark a mindset of happiness. Furthermore, in The Zen and Art of Happiness, author Chris Prentiss explores and reinterprets ancient Chinese texts, such as I Ching (with a relation to his life experiences), to expound the philosophy: the Zen way of achieving lasting happiness revolves around fostering a particular concentration for the mind on calmness and simplicity which leads to an enlightenment from experience. Through that experience, happiness occurs. Happiness, Prentiss argues, is something that comes from an inner devotion.

These philosophies could be broadly contrasted by etymologies of the word itself, which often connote an interdependency between happiness and its aleatory character. The Greek word Eudaimonia translates into “having a good daimon,” which could be perceived today through the colloquial “protection of a guardian angel.” The French word “Bonheur” stems from the Latin “bonum auguirum” which means “good omen” or “good fortune.” The English word “happy” comes from the Icelandic “happ,” referring directly to luck and chance. [6] The perception of the ancient Greeks—before Epicurean thought—precluded that happiness was uncontrollable. It was something dictated by the Gods or by Fate, determined by the stars or by omens. Alternate understandings of happiness developed as a consequence of good living, and thus the realization came that it could be controlled, but only through the acknowledgement that it required “devotion” and hard work. [7]

[Epicurius] discusses the ideal of achieving ataraxia, which translates to the “absolute tranquility of the soul.” This state is reached by overcoming imaginary and superstitious fears and finding contentment in basic needs and qualities of pleasure. 

A synergistic way to think about these philosophies of happiness is through contemplating the allegory of drinking water: everyone gets thirsty, and everyone searches for something to satisfy that thirst, which is directly analogous to the ubiquitous search for happiness and its attainment. While there are tempting contemporary carbonated concoctions to consume, they do not provide a sustainable solution for quenching one’s thirst: They are engineered for maximum enjoyment—derived from the sensation of taste with the incorporation of synthesized sugar and artificial ingredients rather than for maximizing what is needed by the body when it needs water. Alternatives to water correlate to the fragmented understandings of happiness from individual fields—such as science, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and economics—that are segmented and ephemeral rather than holistic and resilient. Furthermore, the act of drinking water is something that cannot perpetuated indefinitely. The acknowledgement that there will be times of drinking and not drinking water results in the ability to control perception on adverse situations, as discussed by the Dalai Lama and Cutler. Accessibility to sources of water varies with context. Water is more difficult to locate in the desert than by a mountainside. Finding the oasis in the desert can be attributed to the fortune of the traveler or to the cultivation of preparation in locating the oasis prior to and during the journey. Mick Jenkins, another contemporary hip-hop artist, speaks to this metaphor in the introduction of track seven, “Jazz:” “Drink more water...” Because there are a myriad of roadmaps drawn for the path of happiness, modern contemplations on the subject need to be syncretic in order to be revelatory.

"Do you wanna, do you wanna to be, happy? I said do you wanna, do you wanna to be, free?" 

 

[1] Albom, Mitch. Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Print.

[2] Botton, Alain De. The Architecture of Happiness. New York: Pantheon, 2006. Print.

[3] Eisenstein, Charles. The Ascent of Humanity. Harrisburg, Penn.: Panenthea, 2007. Print.

[4] Konstan, David. "Epicurus." Stanford University. Stanford University, 10 Jan. 2005. Web. 7 Dec. 2015.

[5] Lama, The Dalai. The Art of Happiness. N.p.: n.p., 2009. Print.

[6] Lenoir, Frederic. Happiness: A Philosopher's Guide. N.p.: Melville House, 2015. Print.

[7] McMahon, Ph.D., Darrin M., Ph.D. "A History of Happiness." YES! Magazine. N.p., 1 Oct. 2010. Web. 25 Dec. 2015.

[8] Prentiss, Chris. Zen and the Art of Happiness. Los Angeles: Power, 2006. Print.

 

Michael Raspuzzi can be reached at raspuzzi@aesirlab.com.

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