Monday, January 21, 2013

More sad news about happiness.

Another one of our regulars, who has always requested anonymity, sent me this article, which I somehow missed. The author references a new study by Florida State psychologist Roy Baumeister, whose work has figured prominently in my own reflections on the dark side of self-esteem. Baumeister never quite gets the press and plaudits he deserves, chiefly, I'm convinced, because his rejection of the Happyist view of life sold by most of his contemporaries is considered politically incorrect.

Finally, this gives me a chance to link to some of my own scrivening on the subject, such as this, for the Wall Street Journal. I wrote "The Happiness Myth" for the Journal, too, but suddenly it seems available only to subscribers. Also in the subscription-only category is this piece for Skeptic, "Ignorance of Bliss," of which I'm especially proud.

When the latter piece hit the stands, I did a few radio talk shows, and on one such show a caller asked, "Why do you get such joy out of tearing down happiness?"

I get no joy out of tearing down happiness. I am a personal fan of genuine happiness and, though this may shock you, I've even known some of it myself. What I enjoy tearing down is feel-good bullshit, which, often as not, is counterproductive and responsible for a shocking amount of dissatisfaction, inefficiency and ultimate pain. Yes, pain. The pain caused by people who, in the throes of an endless hedonistic quest for what they see as happinesswhich usually reduces to pleasure and "fun"cut life's corners and leave important stuff undone and elevate excitement above reasonableness and hurt (or at least disappoint) the very ones they purport to love. As it happens, I've also done some of that. It's a happiness that we can all live without. And I hate the idea that some people champion that kind of happiness for a profit.


Jenny said...

Thanks for the reminder, Steve. As it so happens, my family is going through a very trying time right now and there is little, if any, happiness or joy. It's mostly struggle and hardship. Somehow, though, it seems like exactly what we need to be doing: working, striving, being the "bad guy" (confrontational) on occasion, and holding on to the principles we proclaim as our bedrocks. Which principles? Well, I don't really think they matter as much as the fact that we do have them.

Yes, please do give me meaning over happiness; I'll take it.

Steve Salerno said...

I wish you good luck with your situation, Jenny. Maybe this is a case where a little mindless escapism is not so bad, as a respite..?

Cal said...

Here's a blog post from Washington Monthly I found interesting about a recent Eric Cantor speech, although admittedly the author comes from the opposite partisan point of view also.