When Happiness Is So Overrated


I have been on Flickr for a while, especially as a big fan for its “Organizr” function that allows a single photo to be included in multiple galleries. With Flickr acquired by SmugMug, I decided to explore what SmugMug had to offer.

I transferred some old photos to the platform and uploaded a few more. Then I received the following message on the screen:

“Hooray! That’s 1 happier photo.:)”


I was confused. My photo wasn’t even close to a happy photo. It was neutral, it was mellow, it was just…not happy. And there I saw the emoticon at the end of the message: colon & close parenthesis.

SmugMug, a paid service with some powerful customization functions and a not-so-bad organizer itself, is giving me a hard time to get over its logo: A HAPPY FACE.


I used to think that if there was anyone who wouldn’t be irked by the overloaded happy faces, it’d be me. The thought lasted until 10 years ago when I encountered an article (on a Chinese literature exam!) by Guoping Zhou, a critique on the mere pursuit of “simple happiness.”


At that time (in 2007), a college professor in Chinese culture studies, Dan Yu, became a popular TV figure after starting to tell Confucius’ stories in Analects 《论语》in simple language. Yu concluded that what Analects proposed, was “to follow one’s heart and be happy.” For the Chinese society then that was more of a money-oriented society (I guess it’s still the same now?), it was a powerful message for a lot of hardworking and direction-seeking Chinese people. As a teenager, I was intrigued too. Learning about how the dry tomes were sending such lightweight messages made me believe that “I should be one of those happy people too.”

Meanwhile, many academics were criticizing Yu’s oversimplifying of the classics too. Among those voices, Zhou’s critique of Yu, however, stayed more relevant to me. In his critique, he claimed that Yu’s lectures were able to send some needed messages for the stressful Chinese society, and that her choice to interpret the classics in her own way was well justified. What was not cool, Zhou continued, was her hasty interpretation of the life of the mind (心灵生活) to be “the happiness of heart,” which in many cases of her storytelling, called for the compliance of roadblocks that “makes you unhappy.”

The core of either Analects, Plato, or the Bible, Zhou suggested, were world views, which all communicated unique and profound intensions. “To be happy,” in contrast, was merely a mental state, or at the most a certain mental state that some world views would agree with at times. Profound world views, Zhou concluded, were not just about embracing happiness, but being involved with the greatest sympathy of mankind. And in response to societal realities, the solution should never be self-detaching, but steadfast criticism.

Then, I thought about Russel’s three passions.

The longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.

How depressing am I? Quite I guess. Let me think about SmugMug’s “That’s one happier photo” this way: the photo is uploaded, and it is why it is happier. The pursuit of sharing and to be seen is a nice world view, I guess.


A link to Zhou’s original article in Chinese: 
https://www.thn21.com/Article/wenyan/29316.html

A link to my SmugMug album that might expire soon:
https://hirainforest.smugmug.com/