1. dag

    It may not seem like it at first, but I don’t think you’re too far from the “meaning of life” question here. Isn’t happiness one of the most basic emotional desires in life? I certainly don’t want to be unhappy or sad or fearful or angry. And I’d rather be happy than neutral to circumstances. It may be a little silly to ask, but why would we not want to do what makes us happy? After all, it is our own life we’re talking about here. Happiness and it’s emotional variations pretty much sit on top of the emotional hierarchy.

    Now what passes for making people happy these days is far different question. In many cases, I think the least acceptable answers speak to gratification, not happiness. A Big Mac may be gratifying, but it does make you happy in itself – or a least it shouldn’t.

  2. admin

    I think you’re right; the “meaning of life” question is certainly related. But I think THAT question (what should we do to lead meaningful lives?) is distinct, at least philosophically, from happiness.

    Let me clarify by saying no, I am not suggested we lead dreary, depressing, or tempestuous lives. 😛 But I think there is a crucial difference between attaining happiness through meaningful activities and seeking happiness directly for its intrinsic value. I think the J. S. Mill quote really brings to light the problem with the search for happiness.

    I’ll throw in another Mill quote from his book Utilitarianism, the classic “happy hog vs. perplexed Socrates” quote: “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be a Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is because they know only their own side of the question.”

    I suppose that such a position (seeking understanding is more important than seeking happiness) does bias my discussion. I think I’ll lead a much more meaningful* life than I would if Hedonism is my end goal (the real definition of Greek Hedonism, not the colloquial adaption of “pure sensate pleasure”). But again, I think that such a position is more a matter of personal taste and opinion than a strong, objective argument.

    * I ALMOST typed “meaninful”, bringing about a personal crisis of epic proportions. I watched the SNL skit with Tina Fey as Palin debating “Joe Biden” and remembered her comment that if you want to vote for a candidate who doesn’t like “pronouncing the G at the end of the word she’s sayin'” she’s your pick. I almost did the same thing! I have been turned to the dark side! End my suffering!!! 😛

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