The Pursuit Of “Happiness”
The Pursuit Of “Happiness” BY dr024a13 Alejandro Avellaneda Professor Robert Grimwade Philosophy of the Human Person May 2013 The Pursuit of Happiness Finding the meaning or the purpose of human life is an ongoing quest that has possibly plagued mankind since the dawn of civilization. Many philosophers, theologians, and various other great and influential thinkers throughout our history have proposed various interpretations of what they believe to be the purpose or meaning of our existence – or lack thereof.
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What these great thinkers have failed to realize is that the very notion of there being a specific “purpose” to human life is resumptions and derived from religion, for religion is the only indicator of there being an intrinsic purpose to our existence or our actions. Australian neurologist Sigmund Freud exposes this in his work; “One can hardly be wrong in concluding that the idea of life having a purpose stands and falls with the religious system (Freud 23). He proposes that the “purpose” of human life is simply the force that drives us and determines our actions. He explains that our desire to achieve “happiness,” is the driving force in our lives, and thus is the “purpose,” of our lives. Freud’s interpretation of the purpose of the human life is primitive and basic; it does not hold any underlying driving forces such as religious beliefs, but is rather derived from our physical and psychological needs and desires; our human nature.
His explanation is therefore one of the few credible explanations of the purpose of human life. To simplify his explanation, “happiness” is physical pleasure. Through Freud’s work we can see how this innate desire for “happiness,” does in fact drive our actions, thus being the “purpose,” in our lives and we can also see that the very ature by which we attempt to become “happy,” is suppressed by the nature of our civilizations, thus making it impossible to become completely happy whilst remaining civilized.
As IVe mentioned, Freud attempts to discover the purpose of our lives through the observation of our behavior and our actions; “We will therefore turn to the less ambitious question of what men themselves show by their behaviour to be the purpose and intention of their lives (Freud 23). ” His conclusion is simple and undisputable; IVe already revealed it to be that we ultimately seek happiness, “What do they demand of life and wish to achieve in it? The answer to this can hardly be in doubt. They strive after happiness; they want to become happy and to remain so (Freud 23). All of our actions are driven by this desire to become and remain happy. This desire gives us purpose. Simply stated, “happiness,” is physical pleasure. As Freud further explains, our pursuit of happiness forms into two separate and distinct goals: eliminating any pain or discomfort, and experiencing strong pleasure. “This endeavor has two sides, a positive and a negative aim. It aims on the one hand, at an absence of pain and unpleasure, and, on the other, at the experiencing of strong trong pleasure.
But as Freud also explains, our ability to experience this notion of happiness is limited. We only experience this happiness when long deprived and highly desired needs are once and for all finally satisfied; the more suddenly this occurs, the “happier,” we feel. Once our desires are met, our feeling of happiness begins to slowly deteriorate, “When any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged, it only produces a feeling of mild contentment (Frued 23). ” In this sense our ability to experience happiness is highly defective.
It comes from a ontrast in conditions, the change from our desires not being satisfied to them suddenly being satisfied, but as they continue to be satisfied we begin to find less satisfaction in them. As Freud puts it, “We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things (Freud 23). ” One can easily relate this to the “honeymoon” period typical in the beginning of a romantic or even sexual relationship and how after time, the initial infatuation begins to wear off and one can become either simply content with their partner or possibly even dissatisfied.
Another easily relatable example is the initial feeling of enchantment one experiences when they finally obtain something they have long coveted such as a toy, a car, possibly a new video game or gadget and the gradual loss of this feeling over time. With these examples, it is easy to see that we typically become content with the absence of pain or discomfort, we settle for the negative goal of not being feeling pain and discomfort rather than the positive goal of experiencing extreme pleasure because the latter is very difficult to achieve.
So slowly, our main focus in the pursuit of happiness shifts to simply reducing as much ain and discomfort as we possibly can and sometimes even begin to neglect the positive goal of experiencing pleasure, “… if a man thinks himself happy merely to have escaped unhappiness or to have survived his suffering, and if in general the task of avoiding suffering pushes that of obtaining pleasure into the background (Freud 24). ” One might question why unhappiness is so easy to experience in contrast to the difficult of experiencing happiness.
As Freud explains, there are three sources of pain and suffering that threaten us constantly. The first is our bodies; they are lowly decaying and make us suffer through sickness, diseases, and our aging process. The second is the external world, our natural environment that constantly attacks us with powerful and destructive forces such as natural disasters and accidents and also causes us to suffer by simply (and seemingly naturally) making it very difficult to satisfy our instinctual desires and experience pleasure.
In fact, Freud states that there is absolutely no possibility of becoming perfectly, completely, and constantly happy because, “all the regulations of the universe run counter to it (Freud 23). ” The third is our social relationships with other people. Freud believes this is possibly the worst and most painful of the three sources of suffering, though we rarely realize it, tend to regard it as a kind of gratuitous addition, although it cannot be any less fatefully inevitable than the suffering which comes from elsewhere (Freud 24). To counter these sources of pain and suffering, and accomplish the goal of eliminating our pain and discomfort, human beings have long practiced various methods (or strategies) of avoiding the three sources of pain and suffering. These methods are varied in their severity and each have their unique suffering they aim to eliminate. Freud does not claim to list every method of coping with suffering, “l do not think I have made a complete enumeration of the methods by which men strive to gain happiness and keep suffering away (Freud 28)… he only discusses select methods of avoiding suffering which he says have been “recommended by the various schools of worldly wisdom and put into practice by men (Freud 24). ” Voluntary isolation, or “keeping oneself aloof from other people (Freud 24),” is as Freud puts it: “the readiest safeguard (Freud 24),” against any suffering derived from relationships with other human beings. As Freud explains, this is because isolation (in any of its various forms – be it from people, the world, or even reality itself) is the only method of coping with any of the sources of suffering (except ones own body) on ones own – without any outside help.
Through this method one achieves the “happiness of quietness (Freud 24). ” But this method is very one dimensional and ineffective since isolating oneself from other people cannot protect one against the pain and suffering caused by the naturally disastrous external world, nor our own bodies. As mentioned, the external world hurts us by aturally working against us in our quest to satisfy our instinctual desires and experience pleasure (and thus achieve happiness).
It is rather obvious that this natural deprivation of satisfaction to our needs is in itself enough to cause us pain and suffering; “Just as a satisfaction of instinct spells happiness for us, so severe suffering is caused us if the external world lets us starve, if it refuses to sate our needs (Freud 25-26). ” As Freud suggests, one can attempt to counter this naturally occurring state of dissatisfaction by learning to kill off or suppress ones instinctual esires that require satisfaction – such as a priest or monk does.
The downfall to this method is that if one is successful in completely suppressing ones instinctual desires, one also in turn renounces pleasure. As Freud states, to successfully suppress ones instinctual desires is to have “given up all other activities as well – he has sacrificed his life; and, by another path, he has once more only achieved the happiness of quietness (Freud 26). ” On a more moderate level, one can try attempt to control and partially suppress (rather than completely suppress) their instinctual esires therefore lessening the potential pain felt due to the deprivation of the satisfaction of these desires.
The disadvantage with this is that in doing so one not only reduces the severity of the pain one can possibly experience, but in turn one also reduces the potential amount of pleasure they can possibly experience. This is because the satisfaction felt from satisfying a controlled and diminished instinctual desire can never be even remotely as pleasurable as the satisfaction felt from satisfying an uncontrolled and entire (unsuppressed) desire.
As Freud puts it, “The eeling of happiness derived form the satisfaction of a wild instinctual impulse untamed by the ego is incomparably more intense than that derived from sating an instinct that has been tamed (Freud 26). ” Freud also recognizes becoming a member of society and participating in human culture as a method of countering the suffering caused by the difficulty we encounter in satisfying our instinctual desires.
Though the external world makes it difficult to satisfy our innate desires, through participation in human culture one can sublimate these desires and satisfy them through means that are not hindered by the external world. There are potentially an get from working on cars, weightlifting, games, sports, or even helping others is possibly sublimation of our instinctual desires – literally any action we take is potentially an example of this sublimation.
Freud gives us the examples of “… an artist’s Joy in creating, in giving his phantasies body, or a scientist’s in solving problems or discovering truths… (Freud 26). ” This strategy is advantageous for an obvious reason; we are able to satisfy our instinctual desires that are difficult to satisfy through much easier and socially accepted, or “normal,” actions. Yet this strategy is not without its own disadvantages.
Much like when one partially suppresses their instinctual desires, the satisfaction one receives through the sublimation of desires cannot compare to the satisfaction one would receive if they were to achieve the satisfaction of their actual instinctual desires in their natural form. In fact, sublimation might offer even less of a degree of satisfaction than the partial suppression of innate desires because as Freud explains, “their intensity is mild as compared with that derived from the sating of crude and primary instinctual mpulses; it does not convulse our physical being (Freud 26-27). This strategy is also uncommon and exclusive to people whom we consider exceptionally talented, smart, or even gifted. Furthermore, this strategy offers no protection from the pain and suffering produced by our own bodies, nor the random and destructive forces of nature, “It creates no impenetrable armour against the arrows of fortune, and it habitually fails when the source of suffering is a person’s won body (Freud 27). Freud also discusses the use of intoxicants as a method of avoiding pain and misery. The use of intoxicants allows one to escape reality and create a personal sanctuary with ideal conditions where one can be happy. Freud gives intoxicants the descriptive nickname of “drowner of cares (Freud 24),” a nickname one could hardly argue against; even more so in our current day and age than in Freud’s day and age are intoxicants being used to alleviate pain and misery (alcohol, drugs, etc. . Freud believes intoxicants to be the most effective measure one can take to avoid pain and misery because intoxicants not only give us direct and effective pleasure through hysical sensation, but they also alter our mental state and seem to extinguish our ability to detect or understand any negative notions, thus rendering us unable to feel sadness, anxiety, or any other ill emotion as well as unable to feel any physical pain or discomfort.
Anyone with even minor experience with intoxicants can attest to their ability to alleviate all pain and suffering both physical and mental. The disadvantage to using intoxicants as a means of eluding ones suffering is that the very nature that makes them such an effective means of alleviating pain and suffering is at the very ame time the nature that makes them extremely dangerous. Freud states, “They are responsible, in certain circumstances, for the useless waste of a large quota of energy which might have been employed for the improvement of the human lot (Freud 25). Again, this is much more evident in our day and age then in Freud’s day and age. One does not have to look far to find someone who has succumb to what we now recognize as the addictive power of intoxicants (drugs, alcohol, etc) and desires nothing more than to constantly remain under their influence and remain safe and pain free in the sanctuary they provide. Yet in spite of these dangers, the reward one reaps from use of intoxicants is so great that we continue to use them as them in our lives.
Freud highlights this by stating; “The service rendered by intoxicating media in the struggle for happiness and in keeping misery at a distance is so highly prized as a benefit that individuals and peoples alike have given them an established place in the economics of their libido (Freud 25). ” From the action of sublimating ones instinctual desires that comes with immersing oneself in human culture and society, yet another method of attempting to eliminate pain and suffering egins to take form.
Through sublimation, one can begin to see the intent of gaining independency from the external world by developing satisfaction through internal (personal) physical actions. Freud considers a more developed sense of this independency an entirely separate and distinct procedure (from sublimation) by which one can also attempt to rid oneself of pain and suffering. When this sense of independency from the external world is sufficiently developed, one begins to slightly loosen their grip on reality.
This loosened grip on reality allows one to experience he satisfaction of our instinctual desires through no physical actions of our own. Our imagination creates the illusion of experiencing physical pleasure. In this process, though we are still able to recognize that we are experiencing satisfaction not through actions of our own and that the physical gratification we experience is in a sense an illusion, this does nothing to diminish the satisfaction we feel.
We perceive the satisfaction we experience through the illusions that are a product of our imagination in the same manner that we perceive the satisfaction we experience s a result our own physical actions; they are one in the same to us. Freud gives the example of people who enjoy art to further illustrate this method of attempting to relieve oneself of the pain and suffering caused by the world. People can experience satisfaction through the enjoyment of works of art of which they took no part in creating.
The enjoyment experienced by an artist in the creation of his (or her) work of art is recreated through imagination and illusion and the viewer is able to experience this satisfaction his or herself. One cannot undermine the enjoyment xperienced in this process, as Freud states; “People who are receptive to the influence of art cannot set too high a value on it as a source of pleasure and consolation in life (Freud 28). ” This enjoyment is easy to see and I do believe Just about anyone can attest to the power a song, movie, play, drawing, etc has in lifting ones spirits and providing one with pleasure.
But as with most of the other method of coping with suffering we receive from not satisfying out instinctual desires, this method also lacks to provide a degree of satisfaction to completely deliver us from misery. Yet another method of attempting to counter pain and suffering occurs when one recognizes reality itself as the sole cause of all pain and suffering and not only entirely rejects reality but creates their own personal world free of any sources of pain or discomfort and entirely comprised of sources of enjoyment and satisfaction.
The disadvantage of this method is rather obvious; one who adopts this method has lost the ability to endure the pain and suffering the world causes and in his creation of his own world will be considered a madman, “whoever, in desperate defiance, sets out upon this path to happiness will as a rule attain nothing. Reality is too strong for him. He becomes a madman, who for the most part finds no one to help him in carrying through his delusion (Freud 28). ” It is important to note however false aspect of reality that promises happiness and protects them from pain and suffering.
As Freud explains, “… each of us behaves in some one respect like a paranoic, corrects some aspect of the world which is unbearable to him by the construction of a wish and introduces this delusion into reality (Freud 28). ” It is also important to note that some delusions – or false aspects of realities that have been reated in an attempt to offer us happiness and protection – have been accepted by the masses. Freud offers religion as a prime example of such an illusion accepted by the masses.
Of this method of attempting to counter our human pain and suffering, it is lastly important to note that one who suffers from delusion will never able to recognize his or her delusion for what it is, but will instead always believe it to be a true aspect of reality, “No one, needless to say, who shares a delusion ever recognizes it as such (Freud 28). ” Love is yet another method by which one can attempt to alleviate pain and suffering. In Freud’s opinion, love is “conspicuous for a remarkable combination of characteristic features. Freud 28). ” Love liberates us from our dependency and our subjection to the mercy of the unpredictable external world to achieve satisfaction. It makes happiness obtainable on ones own through an “… internal mental processes… (Freud 29). ” But even in fostering this independency, love does not force us to completely reject the outside world (it seems this may be a contrast specific to madness), instead; “it clings to the objects belonging to that world and obtains happiness from an emotional relationship to hem (Freud 29). Another characteristic of love (in this context) that further separates it from the other methods of reducing our pain and suffering is that love by its very nature, not only reduces pain and suffering, but also it also enables us to experience intense feelings of pleasure; fulfilling the positive aspect of the pursuit of happiness that is generally so difficult to accomplish. Love manifests itself in two forms: emotionally through attachment and physically through sexual love.
Sexual love is the ultimate positive experience of intense pleasure and satisfaction. Freud tates “sexual love – has given us our most intense experience of an overwhelming sensation of pleasure and has thus furnished us with a pattern for our search for happiness. What is more natural than that we should persist in looking for happiness along the path on which we first encountered it (Freud 29)? ” All our endeavors and attempts at experiencing positive pleasure are merely attempts of recreating the pleasure we experience through sexual love.
Though love is unarguably the ultimate means of achieving happiness; it does not come without its own severe disadvantage; “It is that we are never so defenseless against suffering as hen we love, never so helplessly unhappy as when we have lost our loved object or its love (Freud 29). ” As anyone who has been in love can attest to, being in love makes you vulnerable to a degree that nothing else can produce, and there is no greater unhappiness than that of loosing love.
Freud’s explanation of what happiness is, and his explanation of the forces that create our pain and suffering and the methods by which we attempt to counter this pain and suffering, give us the foundation from which cultural discontent is born. The first two sources of suffering: our decaying bodies and random and destructive forces of nature are easily ecognized. Freud states, “In regard to the first two sources, our Judgment cannot the inevitable (Freud 33). Although it is impossible to completely eliminate the suffering caused by our bodies and nature; the simple fact that we recognize these forces allows us to take action to mitigate the suffering they produce. “This recognitions does not have a paralyzing effect. On the contrary, it points the direction for our activity (Freud 33). ” As one can clearly see, the negative goal of eliminating pain and suffering will drive our actions; an example of how the pursuit of “happiness,” is the driving force or “purpose in our lives.
The third source of suffering; our relationships with other human beings, or as Freud further elaborates, “the inadequacy of the regulations which adjust the mutual relationships of human beings in the family, the state and society (Freud 33),” goes generally unrecognized by society. “We do not admit it at all; we cannot see why the regulations made by ourselves should not, on the contrary, be a protection and a benefit for every one of us.
And yet, when we consider how unsuccessful we have been in precisely this field of prevention of suffering, a suspicion dawns on us there here, too, a piece of nconquerable nature may lie behind – this time a piece of our own physical constitution (Freud 33). ” In other words, upon further observation we realize that we have not been able to successfully find a method to counter the suffering produced by social relationships, so there must be an underlying force of nature that is preventing us from developing such a method.
Freud reveals that our natural instincts are the very force that prevents us from developing social relationships free of pain and suffering. So therefore it is impossible to ever develop social relationships free of pain and suffering. Our very nature goes against social relationships free of suffering, and at the same time one of our ultimate goals or our “purpose,” in life is to eliminate suffering; one can easily begin to see the problem forming.
Since we fail to recognize and even deny that our relationships with other people are a source of suffering, we can take no action to alleviate this suffering. Freud then realizes that civilization is therefore a major source of our suffering, possibly the predominant cause of suffering; “When we start considering this possibility, we come upon a contention which is so astonishing that we must dwell upon it. This contention holds that what we call our civilization is largely responsible for our misery… (Freud 33). This discovery reveals the paradox that whilst civilization was designed to protect us and to foster happiness, it in fact makes it impossible for us to be completely happy. Freud goes on to state “we should be much happier if we gave it up and returned to primitive conditions (Freud 33). ” But as Freud explains, the suffering caused by social relationships is denied and unrealized, thus rendering us unable to take action against it. It seems clear that because of this, we will never be able to achieve complete happiness.