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All about happiness, tra-la-la

Happiness, like sanity, is something we have very few definitions of. We’ve got any number of ways of describing what it looks like to be crazy, and probably as many to describe all the variations of misery. Stephanie Convery’s review at Overland a while back of David Malouf’s Quarterly Essay on happiness showed very clearly how even the writers we have been told are literate flounder when trying to philosophise about happiness, either falling back on hackneyed definitions derived from the classics, or fumbling around on the edges of the trite language of self-help manuals. Life is unfortunately not a metaphysical exercise, just as Christmas is not a time of unalloyed bliss. Christmas is in fact a crap time for a lot of people, and family violence tends to spike at Christmas. Whether they are writers or salesmen no-one looks so foolish as the person who says they will now tell us all about happiness, as though they know what it is, as though happiness is a quality that can be acquired by buying particular objects, or reading certain books.

Discussing happiness can make a lot of people miserable. If I have a definition of happiness that insists that it be subscribed to by others, or holds that an inability to be happy is a sign of moral failure, I have probably just invented a somewhat insidious form of fascism. From the point of view of the really happy, whoever they are, happiness is no doubt something of a problematic idea. Asking the happy how their happiness is playing out today, would probably be akin to asking someone how Australian they’re feeling this morning. And what is definitively Australian is something only the deranged would try to measure.

Maybe happiness is an idea that needs something of a rethink, or needs to be junked entirely in favour of other ways of thinking about being alive. Even the emperor of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, a man not noted for considering the politics of what he is doing, has decided to rethink his bizarre idea that happiness is something that can be adequately measured by mood. Defending yourself against misery is not the same as being happy. Recently I stumbled across the following on an Australian literary blog somewhere, written post-Fukushima.

Sometimes, in the face of terrible events about which you can do nothing, it’s hard to keep going with the everyday things. It’s easy to come to work and ask, who cares about this comma? Why is this cover important? What do books matter when so many people’s worlds have fallen apart?

But then we rally, and we remember that every day life is for living full and well, and that books can offer great comfort in difficult times.

This is what might be called a manic defence, an example of all the somewhat feverish methods and sleights-of-hand we use to prevent ourselves from reflecting upon suffering’s often blatantly political causes. A half-arsed desperate defence against the bleeding obvious as a way of accepting one’s own powerlessness doesn’t make it alright. Is life really just ‘for living full and well’? What on earth would that mean, and who would decide? Going to work and asking ‘who cares about this comma’, if you are a person who works with commas, is in fact a perfectly valid question and one that the comma-burdened could ask themselves every day. I’d argue that it takes some courage, a stubborn refusal to submit to regimes of the normal to keep on asking that question. It’s easier in fact not to ask the question, and if a terrible disaster or crime that destroys the lives of other human beings causes me to stop and think, ‘Why does my comma-arranging matter?’, that might be because I urgently need to do something I have been frantically ignoring – ask some questions of myself, questions to which the answer is unlikely to be that I should keep doing more of whatever I was doing before the question.

Why we might want to take refuge in books in order to be comforted when confronted with the pain of others is another question entirely. But a book that I grasp at to keep me afloat in a crisis is probably what is called a bible, and religions of the book have something of a sensitive and problematic history, skewed with more politics than the book-ish are prepared to admit.

This is not to say that books can’t adventitiously fall into our lives at difficult moments, just as a whole lot of things can – cups of tea, warm blankets, a kiss, a song, a phone call, a joke – but the idea of books as a refuge from thinking about the pain of others seems to be somewhat problematic. Once upon a time when I was very tired of a whole lot of things, I came across an ancient copy of Treasure Island in a secondhand book shop, and enjoyed it more than any book I had read in a long time. But to run to Treasure Island when others are in extreme distress might be an act that says more about what is happening to my mind than it does about the magical healing power of books.

In Alan Bennett’s novella An Uncommon Reader, the Queen discovers reading. Beginning randomly with Ivy Compton-Burnett she works her way circuitously through various canons, enlarging her knowledge of the world and at one stage attempting a conversation about Genet with the French President, before concluding that the thing about books is that we read them to confirm what we think. The more Our Royal Sovereign thinks and reflects on what she reads, the more she writes, and the more she writes the more she is troubled, and the more she is troubled the more enlivened she becomes. Being troubled is what happens when we stop compromising, and being able to tolerate and bear the state of being troubled might be more conducive to an enlivened state than seeking ‘happiness’.

‘I very rarely have the feeling in the present of being happy, of loving simply what I am living,’ said Jacques Derrida in an interview. ‘But in the past everything seems to have been loved, and to have been reaffirmed.’ He seemed very surprised by this statement, as though he’d suddenly discovered that his mind was simpler than he thought it was.

Rather than trying to work out what would make us happy, rather than continually juggling our failures under the disguise of ‘compromise’ it might be enough to know that just about everyone is anxious all the time. That the suffering that seems to cover the world is for the most part caused by the choices and priorities or political systems that devalue what is human and celebrates a worth that appears to be contained in objects, in money, in status, in despotic acts, in consumer goods, in careers, in oil, in real estate, in military strikes, in fame, in blockbuster sales, in sovereign power. And, given that knowledge, to understand that there is work to do. How we carry out that work is probably up to each individual’s intelligent use of their own creativity and to the sharpness of their sense of the political and the structurally violent concealed in what is absurdly called normal life. Arranging commas is a perfectly valid occupation, though understanding the political nature of commas, how we have made them and what they can be used for, is something else again.

Happiness, like commas and reading and wars, always has a subtext, a raft of unheard assumptions, and if we think of happiness this way happiness can become a kind of idea we can begin to examine the roots of, to ask who decides what happiness is and why, so that questioning the political causes of misery and the definitions of happiness can become a fundamentally troubling act.

And just because I can (and because whatever looks like it could make you happy you should look at closely, repeatedly) check out this ripper performance by Stevie Wonder of Superstition on Sesame Street in the early 1970s, back when Sesame St was cool. Have a good Christmas.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Stephen Wright’s essays have won the Eureka St Prize, the Nature Conservancy Prize, the Overland NUW Fair Australia Prize and the Scarlett Award, and been shortlisted for several others. He was writer-in-residence for the 2015 Mesmerism new music festivals. In 2017, he won the Viva La Novella Prize. His winning novel, A Second Life, was published by Seizure, and also recently won the Woollahra Digital Literary Prize for Fiction.

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  1. Happy days.

    Thanks Stephen … season’s greetings to you, also. Wouldn’t it be nice if peace and good will to all did shine out like a star, making greed and cruelty all watery and silvery-looking, transformed into creativity and heart’s-ease?

    Perhaps, maybe, I think that would be happy-making.

  2. I sometimes suspect that the pursuit of happiness is a purely western thing …

    Moments of pure happiness for me are the sensory, sensual moments when the monkey mind is stilled. Like you wrote Stephen, a song, a kiss, a warm blankie, a cup of tea. Pure happiness is losing myself in the chookpen throwing out wheat and watching chickens scratch around; pushing my fingers through the dog’s fur.
    Mindless moments. Joy.
    My sister, when I asked her about this very question, said her happiest moments are driving around in the bush looking for Valiant wrecks she can rat parts from.
    This is a lovely post, Stephen, thanks.

    • No probs Sarah and thanks. Though I have to say that the usually robust Overland editing process seems to have gone a little astray, and I don’t understand some of my own sentences.
      Yeah, the promotion of happiness is terribly suspect and is really the nature of the problem. Which is why I really like Derrida’s quote. I’m happy enough to have the life I have, but I have politics on my side; white, privileged male and so forth.
      And funnily enough, the image of your sister cannibalising Valiants in the bush, seems a very Australian kind of happiness.

      • Apologies, Stephen. I’m working off an iPad and am obviously struggling my comma-arranging, etc. Have tried to make some clarifying amendments.

        • That’s very kind of you to bother to take the time on Christmas Eve. I knew something weird was happening behind the scenes. I should have guessed it was Jobs revenge on me from beyond the grave. I knew he’d get me somehow.
          But I have to say that I think the penultimate para still reads better in my original submission as one long sentence, to whit:
          “…happiness can become a kind of idea we can begin to examine the roots of, to ask who decides what happiness is and why, so that questioning the political causes of misery and the definitions of happiness can become a fundamentally troubling act.” Looks ugly and a bit weird as two.
          Have a good Xmas Jacques and thanks again for all the space.

  3. ‘Superstition’ wasn’t off Fulfillingnesess’ First Finale; but ‘Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away’ was, appropriately enough; as was ‘Smile Please’. So, in keeping with the custom: “Happy Christmas!” And doesn’t Modern Times end with Charlie and the Gamine walking hand in hand into a sunrise rather than a sunset, Charlie mouthing the word “Smile!” while reversing the doleful expression on Ellen’s face?

  4. I really enjoyed this reflection, Stephen.

    Perhaps we only realise what happiness is not – status, power, consumption – when we get to the end of our lives but by then it’s often too late.

  5. yeah, it seems like growing older is milestoned by an increasing number of ‘d’oh!’ moments. Part of the problem is that we don’t have a vocabulary to describe non-miserable experiences, anymore than we have a vocab to describe non-mad states of mind. There’s a huge literature of misery and when literature gets onto the topic of ‘happiness’ it goes all weird and pear-shaped. Maybe fiction writers have privileged despair and madness too much, and expunged the politics of both.

  6. This thinking about happiness thing on Xmas eve is making me unhappy. Ergo, thinking is the problem. What was that song from the film Love Story: ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry’? So, along the same lines: Happiness means never having to say you worry. Trite? As I write it is Party City all round. People seem happy- for now. Maybe happiness is a tautology: divesting yourself of everything that makes you unhappy in favour of the hit of whatever it is that makes you happy. Australians, like most people everywhere, anytime, are good at that if they get the chance. Bugger cannibalising Valiant’s in the bush: indigenous nomads kept dogs as moving fences. Yep, happiness is stagflation.

    • “This thinking about happiness thing on Xmas eve is making me unhappy. Ergo, thinking is the problem.”

      Or thinking about it on Xmas Eve is the problem. But yes, there is probably a connection between discursive thinking and worry. It’s no secret that just about everyone is anxious just about all the time, so it most likely follows that a lot of our discursive thinking is just a kind of worry. As I said in the post, what’s interesting to me is the use of the pursuit of happiness as a manic defence against something (existential unease, a crappy childhood, PhD deadlines, bad marriage, whatever) and the political consequences thereof. The literary blog I quoted from that suggested fleeing from thinking about Fukushima into a book, piles up a whole lot of assumptions about literature, that are probably not uncommon and situates a disaster with very definite political parameters within those assumptions.

      And do you know that suburban streets on Xmas morning are eerily silent and empty. It’s like the whole place has been neutron-bombed.

  7. Thanks for the post and the reply, Stephen; it being Xmas and all. Although acknowledging what you wrote in your blog implicitly, I chose more to riff on the ideas of happiness you floated because I enjoyed doing so.

    Personally, I get a perverse pleasure from worrying about worrying, even though I have nothing much to worry about. I have more than enough money, my health is good, my mind able, I leave creatively in a healthy and peaceful environment (as I write my son who is visiting is composing a melody on guitar, the wooded aviary in which I live is alive with birdsong, crickets are keeping time with piano music coming from another room), yet for all that I am not happy. Really, i don’t know what is meant by happiness. I don’t really know what death is, just as I don’t really know what happiness is. So I equate happiness with death.

    You mention the eerily silent and empty suburban streets on Xmas morning. Writing comments on the internet has a similar sort of ambience and feel for me. I enjoy doing it though: words trailing off like vapour to who knows who, who knows where.

    Great blog- and have a great new year.

    Cheers!

  8. Stephen,

    I don’t know that Westerners know anymore how to experience authentic happiness, at least consciously or on purpose. And I suspect that that is because happiness, as we define it and pursue it, is not a thing in and of itself but a negative definition, namely the absence of suffering or discomfort. We, speaking ‘royally’, do not seek out the small peak or transcendent experiences which are happiness (contentment) but seek to alleviate the discomfort of our lives, usually by going unconscious in some way (a lessening of energy): hours in front of the tube, hours in front of the bottle, motion for the sake of motion, a shopping spree, or whatever. Jung said that suffering was not an illness but you wouldn’t think so taking a look around. The entire marketing and entertainment industry in the US is based completely on selling you something (temporarily, we must be good CONSUMErs after all) that will relieve the suffering in your life or the ache in your soul; which it does, until it doesn’t, and the process starts over again.

    If true—that what most people believe to be happiness in not—it becomes rather problematic to talk about happiness until we have adequately redefined and/or (re)differentiated it from what we have thought it was. Further, I think there is a problem in that it is sold, literally, as an objective experience, readily available for all, with the attendant insinuation that if you don’t “get it” than something must be wrong with you—I’ve been drinking for years, all around the world, and have yet to attend a party like any I’ve seen in beer commercials once, much less on a weekly basis. How many people are just going through the motions simply because they believe, from all the marketing, reviews, and diggs, that this MUST bring happiness? If there were to be a symbol of the typical 20th century American, it might ought to be Ponce de Leon.

    But then that brings up the whole (gray) area of gradations and value judgments and around in circles goes the dog merrily chasing his tail.

    On a side note, I finally got around to reading “Radical Hope”, which was fantastic. I would recommend, as its companion, “Gathering the Winds” by Eleanor Wilner—you’ll have to get it used somewhere, published in 1975 and out of print now. It picks up where “Radical Hope” left off in covering what it means to radically re-imagine a new future, context, self, and society out of the ashes of the old.

  9. In the days when I owned a Kindle, Lear’s Radical Hope was the first book I bought for it. I’d forgotten that I had blogged about it, or rather about the very interesting idea of the child Plenty Coup’s dream.
    Yes, as I wrote above lots of what we engage in as fulfilling is perhaps a manic defence of some kind against an experience of absence. In other words a way of keeping ourselves together, a kind of skin holding things in/keeping things out. You know I read recently that Lacan apparently had this theory – from his reading of Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist – that Joyce’s writing was a way of keeping himself together, of stopping himself from having an irreparable breakdown. In other words a kind of symptom, a sort of attempt at self-cure. I was very interested in this because a lot of fiction looks like just that to me. That doesn’t make it less interesting – in fact probably more interesting, because fiction as fiction seems like a non-sequitur and not interesting at all.
    In Radical Hope it is a child’s dream that disrupts for the Crow nation the seemingly unstoppable tsunami of colonial destruction. That seems to me be a very politically significant event, one that could do with a lot of reflection. I mean there were politically concrete results from it.
    Keeping a fantasy of ‘happiness’ as a cultural and political foreground weirds me out the more I think of it, but for sure it is an ideal way of keeping political examination at bay in the name of self-fulfilment.

  10. I apologise if I am repeating what others have said in response to your blog already Stephen.
    I think Happiness as a desired/aspirational long-term state of mind (through literature or any other method) is nonsensical and impossible. Our mental states fluctuate constantly, and are a reflection of the fluid nature of mind. Surely we can only have a position of happiness in relation to unhappiness. And happiness (or its flip side) is dependent upon memory (past) and projection (future).
    I think at the moment of awareness of the present; happiness (or any other state of mind) is eliminated (not achieved, not beaten, not elusive, not anything – just gone). As desire (for happiness) or aversion (to unhappiness) cannot be generated. And there lies freedom.
    And then you can go and do your job! (or count commas).

    • I think there is some fundamental difference between compassion (for the suffering of others) which can generate an almost helpless sense of intoxicating sadness; and sadness which is based upon memory of past or projection of future (which can also be intoxicating). And although both may present themselves as Unhappiness – they of course are radically different.
      I like to think of the word ‘joy’. For me it conjures up fleeting moments of awareness; a speck; a particle. Timeless.
      It’s outside happiness or unhappiness. And brings everything back to that moment.

  11. Thanks for this Kylie. Yes, I think happiness is beside the point. That’s my point. And you can’t get to happiness from unhappiness either. Which is why nobody is ever happy for long. Nice distinction between sadness and compassion.
    Nobody can function chasing happiness all the time. It’s not a machinery that works. Which is why the whole intention and base of positive psychology is so weird. Chasing happiness just sends everyone bats.

  12. Happy New Year Everybody!
    There seems to be some link between happiness and time. Pure unalloyed happiness is often thought of as only possible in the past (or future). It partakes of innocence and purity. I mention this because of reference to Sesame Street and Derrida (whom I take to be a hulking romantic).
    Things get marred. Experience takes its toll. Alas, there certainly is work to be done – but not the unblinkered kind. I would suggest that the biggest and hardest job by far is negotiating fair compromise. I agree about the pathetic manic defence whereby one compromises at the drop of a pin. But to dismiss compromise in toto is alarmist, a rally call for only the most extreme situation – unless you’re a fascist too, and I know Steve is not.
    In the spirit of the silly season, let me offer a minimalist definition possibly acceptable to all: Happiness is a harbour full of all kinds of boats making room for one another.
    Love you, Steve, on behalf of all.

  13. How about an arena full of dodgem cars? When I read your sentence “Experience takes its toll”, the phrase “Madness takes its toll” immediately jumped into place, which you may know from the popular musical Rocky Horror, from ‘Time Warp’, which matches neatly to your reference on happiness as always happening in past or future time.
    Ta for the comments on compromise. I guess what I was trying to say was that what generally gets represented as ‘compromise’ is something else, and often a kind of fascist closing down of anything agonistic.I don’t think of compromise as aiming for a win-win but more being able to tolerate a lose-lose, and seeing something politically enriching in that, or just being able to tolerate relationships that aren’t politically pure. If I’m in a professional meeting and someone starts talking about compromise, I know that no compromise is in fact going to happen.
    You know I think of Derrida as like Tony Judt; both were nostalgic for a kind of debate that isn’t around much anymore. And neither of them blathered on about happiness, because there were more interesting things to talk about. And both of them are dead too. They have that in common as well.

  14. Hey Steve, can you please explain what you mean by the political nature of commas? I am grappling with that concept. Cheers and Happy New Year.

  15. m Sure. By ‘political’ I mean that things don’t have an essential nature, they have an agreed nature, a constructed nature. Commas, wars, literature don’t fall from the sky, people made them up so they always have shifting meanings, but often have groups assert that they have the definitive real meaning of these things.
    Commas are a distinctive aspect of english prose. There are all kinds of rules about commas, but really they are arbitrary. For example, Jose Saramago and Jacqueline Rose are very profligate with commas, while Robert Bolano somewhere speaks rather sniffily of someone using too many commas. Gertrude Stein didn’t like punctuation at all. John Cage used blank space as punctuatiion. James Agee used colons and semi-colons the way others use commas and full stops. Kurt Vonnegut said no-one should ever use semi-colons. When I was doing some uni post-grad study a few years back a lecturer told me that a paragraph couldn’t have just one sentence in it. So that’s a statement about prose; any pragraph must be composed of at least two sentences. Which is a political statement. In reality if we all stuck rigidly to the standard rules of punctuation, all our prose would look exactly the same and things woul never change.

  16. “So that’s a statement about prose; any pragraph must be composed of at least two sentences. Which is a political statement.” But why is it political? What is the political moment in saying that you must have at least two sentences in a paragraph? What are you saying that politics is, such that making a statement about prose is a political statement?

  17. It’s political because one is making a definitive claim, one that is not self-evident, one that is in a sense made up. It may be agreed to by a large number of people, it may even be agreed to by every person on the planet and those with tentacles on a dozen other planets, but it’s just a convention. It is when the convention becomes an absolute that the politics starts bleeding out all over the place.

  18. You definition of politics, then, is: ‘making a definitive claim, one that is not self-evident, one that is in a sense made up.’ But you also say that this is ‘just a convention’. I find that confusing. A non-self evident claim must not be conventional, otherwise it would be self-evident by definition: it would a conventional claim.

  19. I’m not following your logic, but I think that’s because you’re not following mine. I’ll try to be clearer: Making a definitive claim about phenomena, behaving as if that claim were self-evident is political because there is hardly anything that is indisputably itself that has arisen from human agency. Just about everything has a conventional nature. That includes me and you. If identity can’t be indisputably real and solid and unquestionable, then it’s unlikely that things identified or created by those identities can be indisputably inherently real. Stuff is constructed. That doesn’t make it invalid or unworkable, and I’m not making any claims to nihilism. I started out thnking about violence and about the incessant pursuit of happiness, and I think the politics of the two are often linked, at least in our ordinary comsuming lives anyway. Knowing that a conventional thing is conventional is a very different politic to claiming that the conventional thing is unclallengeable.

  20. You are saying that identifying something as conventional identifies it as political, because it means it can be challenged. I’m saying that this is perhaps necessary for politics, but is definintely not sufficient. The result of your claim is that, because we can use the word ‘conventional’ in relation to commas, we can say that conventional punctuation is being challenged and thus that commas are political. I don’t find that intelligible, as it simply plays on the word ‘conventional’. For example, is it political when convention within a science is challenged (for example the challenge to Newtonian dynamics by thermodynamics)? I think that it can have political consequences, but that it isn’t in itself political: a weltbilt is not a weltanschauung. You appear to be forced to claim that it is necessarily political, simply because convention is being challenged. The only reason I say any of this is because I think it is important to be clear about what is and what is not politics, if politics is going to be engaged in at all. I’m more concerned about what you are saying about politics, than about commas.

    • Mmmm, I think I’m saying that phenomena being conventional (ie; don’t have an essential core of ‘realness’, has a million causes)is what makes them challenge-ABLE, but that the politics occurs when the conventional is assumed to be really real, and is not negotiable. That’s when power happens, and so ona nd so forth. If something has political consequences, then the something must have a political nature, otherwise it couldn’t generate political consequences.

  21. \Eat, people,\ she said.

    \Eat people,\ she said.

    It can be seen that commas have a double frame of political reference, according to whether their conventional nature is considered from the point of view of their history and origin (to separate the different ideas in a sentence for reasons of clarity]; or from the perspective of their functioning in a given culture (to make statements about different cultural values).

    • One can almost forgive the Princess Bride’s comic-book sexism because of its quotableness. “Life is pain…” and “As everyone knows Australia is entirely peopled by criminals” are probably at the top of the list.
      I have give a talk to give at Melbourne Free U next week, and the latter quote nearly went into it. But I have never historically been good at judging the fine line between the frivolous and the trenchant. So it didn’t.

  22. Stephen, this idea of an “enlivened life” gets to where’s its at for you, I’m guessing.

    As you said: Being troubled is what happens when we stop compromising, and being able to tolerate and bear the state of being troubled might be more conducive to an enlivened state than seeking ‘happiness’.

    I’m thinking: many of your blogs at Overland might be about asking us to be troubled and conducive to an ‘enlivened’ life that is ethical/political (we become alive to the constructions and choices of our lives, and thus to the power and suffering that this generates) and difficult (not just in terms of giving a shit / taking up responsibility, but also because we might not have much of the vocabulary and contexts to think through such stuff).

    And so the blogs have been like a clearing house — forget happiness, forget formal education, forget bureaucracy, for the novel, forget celebrities and gurus, forget iPads, kindles and technology, forget fascism and the fascistic mindset in all its guises, forget war even just war, forget trying to keep it all together — no of this is going to help us get to some shared, responsibility enlivened state. And by enlivened I’m thinking of something like: that which gives more life to life, rather than takes it away, or as I might say: caring that helps us keep caring.

  23. Yes, you know, engaging with an enlivened internal capacity has to have an engagement with the political; that is, what gets doen and who gets to do it, what gets said and who gets to say it, what gets felt and who gets to say it, etc, To do that one has to be able to be capable of tolerating distressed mental states, being able to hold onto them with out being drained or devastated by them

  24. Sorry Luke. I didn’t quite finish. You’d think it would be easy to get free internet in this town. Nimbin has more free wi-fi.
    I think being able to tolerate being troubled without having to manically rush toward a ‘solution’ (ie: a way of making one’s troubled state a non-state) is a way of taking some kind of responsibility. I’ve said this before, but if we can’t continually have in mind the murdered others of the past who didn’t get any justice, I don’t see how its possible to engage seriously in any radical politics. Or as I said in the blog about Jobs use one’s iToy while remembering always how it was made. I don’t think this is a depressive mind state, I think it’s an enlivened one. The avoidant one (‘I can’t think about that it’s too depressing/dispiriting/overwhelmingdisempowering etc etc’) is the depressed state desperately trying to avoid recognition of its own nature.

  25. I’m tempted to wonder if this depressive state as Stephen has just identified it is oft associated with functionality for good reason. It certainly is the most efficient, the most cost effective and the most pragmatic modus operandi in current local conditions. Why does one have to pay so dearly for questioning the norms? Perhaps one who does so is open to dread categories such as depressed and unhappy

  26. Gus: all definitions of happiness and madness should be up for grabs these days. And there does seem to be a lot of grabbing going on. Maybe madness used to be a good way to pathologise people, put them in their appointed places, but now, maybe we’re moving to, as you say, a more dread kind of categorisation – the unhappy: “Life is for living full and well!!” etc etc.
    There’s a t-shirt that the Museum of Jurassic Technology put out that has a quote from Proust on it: “Dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing tomorrow.” I don’t want to privilege misery any more than I want to privilege happiness, but I think I’d like to argue for a satisfactory melancholia that thinks on the well-being of others.

  27. Dignity is an old analogue of happiness. The dignity, say, of having a job. Stephen is saying that the situation is worse than merely pathologising unemployment.
    btw love the ‘there does seem to be a lot of grabbing going on’ – neurotic hysterical levels of it.

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