I read an interesting article titled “The Dangers of Happiness” in the July 19, 2015 edition of The New York Times. According to its author, happiness, signifies a guide, a direction for the attainment of a moral life. The idea of happiness was discussed and developed by the Greek philosophers of yesteryear. For example, Aristotle defined happiness by being a good person. The Greek word was called eudemonia-a person that lived ethically, guided by reason and motivated by exhibiting their virtues. Later, the Epicureans, added their own definition. They associated happiness with obtaining pleasure for the greater good. Further, they believed that the good life should be devoted to things that brought pleasure. And Epicurus, the father of the philosophy, reportedly said that he needed no more than a barley cake and some water for his happiness, especially if he was dining with a friend. They were not hedonists. In fact, they preached and imposed a strict regulation of desire, an absence of pain, with emphasis on pleasures in the mind as contrasted to exclusively physical pleasures.
The philosophy of the Stoics added status to their idea of pleasure/ happiness. They argued that a person had the capacity to be happy regardless of how daunting or painful the negative circumstances of one’s life. My attention immediately retrieved Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning-An Introduction to Logotherapy” from memory. While in the Nazi concentration camps, the will to survive and contemplate about the future was paramount for the prisoner’s survival. Dr. Frankl’s account did not detail happiness but he did detail the psychological misery of the inmates. Although at the time of liberation, prisoners exhibited a number of emotions. Yes, there was happiness [difficult to assess] but also relief from the horrible inhumane conditions of the camp.
In the Middle Ages, Christianity’s regarded pain as the more appropriate pathway for a happy life on earth. Pain, was the desired state. And the only pathway could be attained by God in heaven. Life on earth was difficult for the majority, while reaching heaven was certainly going to bring long-awaited happiness. Then, during the Renaissance period, the definition of happiness was changed and could be attained on earth through individual responsibility. Along with the Reformation [Luther and Calvin] and the rise of capitalism, happiness was now equated with being productive and hard work. The social class boundaries now became more malleable for the first time historically. Presently, we market ourselves, climb the corporate ladder; and have developed a despising and hateful attitude toward those who are lazy, accept welfare and those who don’t look for employment. The Age of Enlightenment, followed and influenced Thomas Jefferson. He wrote that the pursuit of happiness was not only an unalienable right, and that man should also have the right to acquire and possess property. He certainly wasn’t referring to the black man who could be possessed and purchased. Approximately 80 years later, Lincoln and the Civil War defined the pursuit of happiness much differently.
Today, and more recently, the path to happiness is to become enlightened emotionally of one’s inner self, to pursue our own dreams, and to become anything we want. Some even pursue themselves by worshiping their bodies by long-distance running, boot camps, iron man events and Cross-Fit competitions per the professor.
Taking issue with Prof.Cederstrom, I have competed in long-distance running [Running the Western States 100 mile one day run] and many other events. These experiences allow me to add my two cents. I must say that while running the Western States and other extreme events, I experienced numerous emotions of which happiness was absent. I realize my experience could be idiosyncratic. I hardly experienced a lot of on pleasure during, and wondered at times, “Why am I doing this?” And after completion of some of these events, especially Western states, I felt exhausted, relieved, had a smile on my face and then puked. I was happy that the event was completed and over.
Happiness is very difficult to access and is fleeting at best. My experience as psychologist is that many people distort their feelings as they use their thoughts to determine feelings –especially, whether or not they’re happy. And by employing thoughts, they are deceiving themselves as result of their defense mechanisms. Denial, intellectualization and rationalizations are commonly used defense mechanisms. Of course, when it comes to happiness they would likely disagree with me while expressing feelings of irritation, annoyance and perhaps anger with their verbal response. And I just smile in return.
For me, my pursuit is intellectual, emotional and physical well-being. Stress and poor health would result in unwelcome pressure as well as a state of misery. So, I engage in behaviors that are supposed to minimize stress and perpetuate terrific mental and physical health. Although some might argue, that I increase stress prior to an ultra-run. Yes, I do experience stress prior and during these events. I want to make clear that I don’t run “Ultras” every day or every week. Thank goodness for that. I also rationalize and tell myself many things about running ultra-events, especially after I completed one without developing an overuse injury, cramping or some other electrolyte imbalance. My ratio is the positives outnumber the negatives. If and when that ratio changes, I will reduce my mileage. The mantra is to keep moving.
If Aristotle and the Stoics had something to say, they might evaluate me according to their definition of happiness as I’m a good person and employ reason in pursuing moral virtues. I also pick and choose when I’m going to experience pain and do it on my terms. Certainly, I subscribe to hard work as in the Reformation era; am in touch with my inner self; and pursue my own earth goals. In essence, I am incorporating ideas and take a somewhat eclectic approach to this happiness philosophical argument. For instance, after a running event, my running partner Tony and I head to the nearest Baskin-Robbins or Ghirardelli ice cream shop for some combination of delicious ice cream. I admit that at this point, I am seeking pleasure and my hedonism reveals itself as I’m extremely happy and in touch with my happiness. If you don’t believe me, just as Tony.