Death to the Pursuit of Happiness

Asked to consider the pursuit of happiness, I envisage the ouroboros, not in a state of primordial rebirth, but eternal self-destruction. This serpent turns on itself, chasing, devouring, but achieving little other than torment. It sees the end of sorrow, ever out of reach. Still, it continues, caught in the snare of the pursuit, no longer registering any other activity as meaningful.

The Fullmetal Alchemist ouroboros
I liked the part where Edward and Alphonse got their mother back.

The pursuit of happiness is deeply entrench in our culture. It appears in our media, our religions, and most famously in the American constitution. An inalienable right, they call it. An ultimate goal, rather than a momentary state.

I fear this mentality is contributing to the crippling depression that now grips modern society.

Happiness exists within a spectrum of feelings. Fear, disgust, love, sorrow, restlessness, apathy, concern, excitement. Yet, these other feelings are often pushed aside, vilified, and reduced to abnormal states. Feeling down? Take some pills. Feeling angry? Have a bath. It is as if we have elevated happiness to the normal, the constant, the true—building the perfect human out of the wish, rather than the reality.

Happiness has been metamorphosed into a transcendent state. One we dwell within, with a face of contentment, unconsciously frightful it will leave us at any moment. We do not love the pursuit—it is a slog, a hindrance. Life has been reduced to a two-dimensional line graph, and the mass wants up, up, up.

A sales chart, with businessmen propping it up
There is no joy that cannot descend into ennui.

Little do they know, the pursuit will never end.

Happiness, like any other emotion, is capricious and indifferent, and that is fine. The human experience is pushed and pulled by its condition; external events, and internal meditations; physical, social and philosophical pursuits, tied together by absurdity.

We limit ourselves by placing happiness on a pedestal, and diminishing all else we feel. Every single human emotion exists for a reason. No one emotion is more important than any other, and all inform us of ourselves and our world. To live only in want of joy is to live in want of ignorance.

I want to feel disgust when I witness injustice.

I want to feel melancholy when a relative dies.

Society’s remedy of happiness be damned. I want to experience the entire spectrum of existence.

A sweatshop
Staring into the abyss that is wage labour, I do not want to feel happiness.

There is a terrifying tradition in our society, to comfort others and deny them of their feelings. To transition them back to their pleasant, old selves. To give seemingly helpful advice. I say, no. To remove these feelings is to remove self-reflection and growth. It is of utmost importance to belong beside, within, and without, another’s feelings. To empathise, listen, and understand.

The life we live is temporary, vast, and objectively meaningless. Our experiences limited, but infinite in possibilities. The myth that is the pursuit of happiness does nothing but shackle us to the limitations of our emotions—but our emotions should not be a thing looked upon in disdain. They are rewarding, informing and give subjective meaning to every moment in our lives. There will not be a point where we suddenly find ourselves grasping happiness, settling down, and transcending reality. To pursue such a goal, ignorant of the other splendours in life, is too sad a life to consider.


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