Forget Sisyphus’ Dreary Myth, Embrace The Happiness Strategy:
Far from being a sin, could happiness be not just fun, but a duty? I will propose that happiness is, indeed, a duty. Happiness is both a cerebral and social necessity. Let’s start with its social link.
When an animal suffers, or at least, when an animal is not happy, it is likely that it is either under aggression, and, or, needs to get into some significant action (taking some risk to go somewhere unusual, even if that animal is only an herbivore).
In either case, action, and, a fortiori, suffering put the animal, human or not, into an aggressive neurohormonal state, or cocktail of aggressive states (notice in passing that it is not always a bad thing: action, or even suffering, are often needed for everybody’s good!). Thus, someone’s unhappiness often ends up as somebody’s else suffering. Unhappiness is not just immoral, and asocial, unhappiness starts a chain reaction of unhappiness.
In human life, suffering is ubiquitous, unavoidable: born in pain, die in pain, with quite a bit of pain, Sturm und Angst, aging and degeneracy in between. So suffering always stands at the ready. Ready to help us not to settle too hopelessly into routine. Suffering, or the threat thereof, is always ready to enrich our minds, be it only with appendicitis, or a broken ankle, we don’t need to encourage it too much.
Happiness, though, precisely because of the ubiquitousness of suffering, is more tricky: it requires more of our enthusiastic cooperation, and encouragement. Happiness calls onto creativity to exist, and overwhelm the pain out there. Not by eschewing the world, as monks and Buddhists propose, but by engaging it enough, to bring up the neurohormones of happiness (Endo cannabinoids, Dopamine, Oxytocin, Endorphin, GABA, Serotonin, Adrenaline, Nitrogen Oxide, “laughing gas“, etc.).
Happiness cannot tolerate too much moderation (consider the Adrenaline above, a chemical known to make a dead heart jump into action, or Dopamine, which cocaine, methamphetamines, boost, to create effect).
Moderation is debilitating, especially in large quantities. Happiness instead embraces immoderately the best aspects that life has to offer, and run away with them. (Creation, in particular necessitates to run away; as our society tries to run away from the encroachment of robots and plutocrats, creation will be needed ever more. Socially good creation is entangled with happiness, while unhappiness is entangled with war hormones and neural patterns and organs.)
But what of the other cerebral consequences of happiness? Happiness is a facilitator of survival. Epidemiological statistics show this.
Wisdom is, first of all, about being as smart in one’s behavior, as one can be, given the circumstances. An example is the six passengers in the Thalys train who just fought the heavily armed terrorist. They acted wisely, and, in this case, it meant that they acted decisively, fiercely, and with maximum violence: first two Frenchmen engaged the fanatic in combat, as it came out of the toilet. A Franco-American professor in his fifties, grabbed the AK 47 automatic machine gun, and ran away with it, and got shot through his entire left side for his trouble. Then the two U.S. servicemen, helped by another American, and a Brit followed, while the terrorist’s two guns jammed. The latter four heroes already got the Legion of Honor. As the 62 year old Brit pointed out, jumping on the terrorist, and hitting his head and choking him until he got unconscious, was the wise thing to do. Sometimes, extreme physical violence is the right activity to bring survival. This is a truism. Yet, in that case, happy meant punchy.
But what does the will to survival in the individual or the society have to do with? Happiness. Who wants to defend a sad life?
Salvador Dali noticed that the Nazis’ will to start a world war had to do with the desire to lose it. I agree. It was not just hatred, cupidity, and the stampeding of the herd, which characterized Nazism. Germans had long been unhappy, and had long built a cultural anthropology of unhappiness (thanks to the fascist and racist political system which ruled them, much of it straight from Eighteenth Century hyper-militaristic dictatorial Prussia and its ingrained hatred against Jews and Poles). German unhappiness brought forth the cultivation of a war-like society (a poisonous, but delicious fruit of which is higher efficiency).
Something striking about the four Anglo-Saxon heroes of the train above, is that they all seem happy in life. This is reflected by the inner strength they exhibited after the harrowing circumstances they had been through.
Without that inner happiness, the four heroes would have valued their lives less, thus valued life in general less, hence would have been less keen to defend theirs, and other people’s, lives (remember the connection of happiness with Adrenaline).
Happiness is not just a luxury, a reward, it’s a safety, even a security. not just for the individual, but for the community at large.
Socrates said the unexamined life was not worth living. Indeed, it never was, and never will. For a human being, to live is to examine. But with what is life examined? Intelligence. And the better examination is rendered possible only by greater intelligence. And what brings maximum intelligence? Experiencing the world in full.
The Romans knew this well. Even in their baths, they had a frigidarium, an ice-cold bath. And a caldarium, a very hot bath. Life, even at the baths, was not just all about the tepidarium, the tepid bath.
Sadness, unhappiness, or the tepidarium, a tepid life, only brings the input of just part of the world. Thus they make minds which are only partial (for example, only war-like). Such half minds are legions. Hitler was typical: more or less a quasi orphan, failed artist, bum, and then a shell-shocked, gazed soldier, his experience from the world, lots of unhappiness, and war, was all what his mind was made from (Stalin, or Lenin had somewhat similar war-like, dejected, unhappy backgrounds).
Sadness brings up the war-like instincts, hence the fascist reflex (to make one out of the many). Here is the answer Estienne de La Boétie was looking for, when he wondered why people accepted to live in servitude to an oligarchy. In Discours de la servitude volontaire ou le Contr’un (Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, or the Anti-Dictator), La Boétie asserted that tyrants had power because people granted it to them. I have proposed a mechanism to explain why it is so. And lack of happiness is central to it.
Happiness brings other aspects to the interaction with the world, which sadness can never reveal. Happy aspects, unhappiness alone never brings. Happiness allows to learn more form the world, it makes the mind in full.
The happy mind is a mind in full.
In a nuclear chain reaction, each nuclear fission, which is caused by a neutron’s impact, in turn creates, in the average, more than one neutron, which strike other nuclei, etc. Nobel Laureate Irene Curie discovered the chain reaction in the particular case of Uranium 235 in 1937 (although many sexist males preferred to attribute the discovery to Otto Hahn, who got the Nobel for it, it’s clearly Irene who taught Otto, through years of heated epistolary exchanges).
Unhappiness has a much more devastating amplification potential than its equivalent with radionuclides. Indeed an unhappy human being can make many other human beings suffer. Not just a couple. This is all the more true in a representative democracy, that is, an oligarchy. After he was elected Chancellor in January 1933, the pathologically unhappy Adolf Hitler was in good position to make hundreds of millions suffer, and not just his niece (who escaped through suicide, with her uncle’s gun).
If happiness is so important socially and for the blossoming of the individual mind, should not it be viewed as more than a right, but even as a moral duty?
The preceding was inspired by the neurohormonal theory of the mind, according to which neurohormonal states do not just characterize the mind, but are determined, with immense inertia, by exterior and inner circumstances. Given the neurohormonal theory of mind, it’s rather self-obvious that happiness is a duty. Without it, it is not that obvious. It’s probably why the notion, that happiness is a moral duty, not just for kicks, seems to have been ignored by the main philosophical ideologies.
Happiness is right in all ways. It even enables to learn. How? The road to truth is paved with errors, painfully learned. Only happiness makes us willing to embrace errors with an open mind. And wish for more, more errors, as we wish to learn more, learning to happily bounce from pains and disappointments to some new, unexpected, more exciting, freshly instructive errors.
No pain, no gain, yet, no happy, no bouncy. If one wants further gains, one has to accept further pain, and that’s possible only with a sunny, happy disposition. To learn ever more, means to be able to suffer pains gladly, ready to bring some more. Happiness is not just about preferring fun to dread, or about blocking reprisals of hatred against doom and gloom. Happiness is an epistemological need.