The Pursuit of Happiness, and Other Wild Goose Chases

I am told to be it, make it and find it. Happiness, that elusive state of being we all desire. It is commonly held to be a noble end, one that should be pursued despite all else. But, can it truly be said to constitute the very meaning of life itself? Such is the claim of the fervent tour guides of the pursuit of happiness. I, however, contend that such a pursuit, where happiness reigns as the supreme principle, is as dangerous as playing with an ant. It is dangerous for the ant, that is. And in this obscure twist of metaphor, it is we who are the ant in question.

Happiness is a concept so vastly relative, eluding any concrete definition, that it cannot at once be said to be absolute and at the same time be the right of all to pursue. If it makes me happy to make you unhappy, then that is as moral as any desire to make you happy. If Hitler appropriated happiness from genocide, then his actions cannot be condemned. Conversely, if I relinquish my own happiness and voluntarily heap misery upon myself so that someone else can be happy, I in fact act immorally. If happiness is the meaning of life, and should be the purpose of all action, then nothing done in pursuit of it can be condemned, and everything that does not amount to it must be.

In the pursuit of happiness, both action and intent is irrelevant. If I murder someone, then it is of no consequence whether it can be proved that I committed the murder, or what my intentions to do so were. I can only be judged according to whether the murdering made me happy. “This is ridiculous!” cries the rainbow shirted spewer of motivational quotes, “Murder doesn’t make the victim or his family happy!” Firstly, we are in no position to be certain whether the victim is or isn’t happy about his current state of affairs, and his family may have thought it a good riddance. Back to the point, both positions are equally defensible and contradictory by the same principle. As such, the pursuit of happiness, in advocating action towards happiness, simultaneously presents any action from being justifiable.

Clearly, happiness does not exist as its own entity. It is merely a response, something that can only be acquired after the fact. This means that happiness cannot form any code of ethics, for the purpose of ethics is to not only judge action, but to inform action. Happiness then becomes problematically consequential, in that it only exists as a result of the action that it was meant to inform. Furthermore, it is empirically problematic, in that it can never be proved that happiness will in fact be gained from a particular action. Even if that was the case in the past, happiness, as an emotional reaction, is completely unpredictable. An attitude of hoping for the best is hardly a solid premise for morality.

The championed axiom of “Be happy”, is in itself an assertion loaded with more holes than the moon’s socks. It is assumes that a static state of being-happy can be obtained, and demands it. It leaves no room for becoming, it assumes the possibility of a perfected state, and disregards the intricacy and unpredictability of life. One’s being-in-the-world is hardly a state of being-happy, and anyone who propounds such a fanciful notion is no doubt living in the most dire slews of bad faith imaginable. It may be just as foolish to think yourself happy as it is to think yourself wise. To play act at being-happy in spite of the reality of one’s existence is not courageous, it is direly irresponsible. The world is neither one of happiness or misery. Rather, happiness and misery are relative responses to the world. The world is what it is, and it is immensely arrogant to relegate all of existence to the realm of subjective emotional response.

Therefore, if happiness is not a constant and cannot be achieved absolutely, it cannot be said to be the meaning of life. Even those who most ardently propound this notion of happiness as true meaning are not so foolish to say that anyone can constantly be happy through the entirety of their existence. If the meaning of life is happiness, then it is a fickle and self-contradictory one, and life has meaning in one moment and then none in the next. And that is hardly any meaning worth sticking around for.

The question of what exactly the meaning of life is, stands outside the scope of this entry. But, I can say that it is most certainly not to be found in the pursuit of happiness. If that statement makes you unhappy, then please re-read all of the above.

I am nothing and more