Tuesday, May 05, 2015

I know am not always happy. I am happy about it!

The other day, I swung by the box-store-that-liberals-hate in order to use the free blood-pressure reading machine.  The reading was all in the clear.  Any medical professional will be happy to see such numbers for pulse and blood-pressure.

I was relieved.  Because, I worried that my unhappiness and stress would have hiked up the numbers into unhealthy territory.

Yep, as many posts in the pasts have made it abundantly clear, I walk around with my own quota of stress and unhappiness.  Life in the ashram for this hermit is not simply eternal bliss.

The good thing is that many, many years ago, I figured that it will be very, very, very rare for a human to be stress-free and happy.  I mean truly stress-free and happy.  Which meant that happiness is something that emerges from and within the context of stress and unhappiness.  Of course, I have blogged about that very idea too; I wrote, for instance, when thinking about Tolstoy's Anna Karenina:
Happy families are those that are able to be happy despite their own versions of unhappiness.
Thus, when a student remarks that I always look too damn happy in my office, he has no idea how much of a validation it is for me that happiness is like a gorgeous lotus in a dirty pond.  The stress causing agents are all around me and yet, according to that student, I look happy all the time.


With such a view of life, is it any surprise that I have never been a fan of strategies to create happiness?  The Bhutanese king's Gross National Happiness is merely an intellectual exercise for me.  But, beyond that intellectual idea, if it were to be designed as a public policy, I will be stressed and unhappy ;)

Why?  Because I don't want anybody telling me what happiness is.  I don't want any intrusion into life as I design it for myself.  I am happy, even with my unhappiness; what's your problem?

Why all this rant on a spring day, you ask?

Because, one of my daily go-to-websites had a link to this essay, with a lead that spoke to me:
Mood-tracking apps, chief happiness officers, positive psychology: When did being miserable become socially unacceptable?
So, of course, I read that essay, which is a review of a book titled The Happiness Industry. And now I am all the more suspicious about this "happiness" that everybody wants to maximize!

The reviewer writes:
Davies warns against the alliance that has developed between political authorities and academic researchers as well as those between economists and psychologists. I am usually in favour of interdisciplinary work. But Davies is right when he says that the notion of "happiness" has moved from being, as he calls it, a pleasant add-on, to a measurement useful in the business of making money – and at the expense of increased control over your life.

To be stressed, unhappy, to worry, to panic, all within a reasonable bound, are all very much part of being human.  Imagine if your taste buds all of a sudden can only feel the sweet taste and nothing else.  You will miss out on the subliminal lime in the cheesecake, the bitterness of dark chocolate, the tartness of an apple, the salt in the potato chips.  Life is not sweet happiness all the time.

At the Guardian, ahead of a debate, Davies writes:
We need to accept that people often have reasons to feel happy or unhappy, and that those reasons are as important as the feelings themselves.  Recognising this would lead us to focus on institutions that grant people a voice that is heard, both as individuals and as groups, and less on the vagaries of sensation and sentiment.
Thanks to "big data," we are now well on our way to slicing and dicing what makes people happy and then--here's the important thing--to manipulate us into being happy:
This data-led approach to understanding people under the guise of improving our happiness is leading to an expansion of surveillance capabilities to which we acquiesce. Big business and the state are able to condition our responses. So comes a seismic shift in the power balance between the individual and big business and more worryingly, between individuals and the state. We are, it seems, sleepwalking into the world of Larkin's "Essential Beauty", in which adverts depict "well-balanced families" but "Reflect none of the rained-on streets and squares". As Davies implies in this readable, disturbing book, being depressed by the human condition will no longer be socially acceptable, or even an option.
Perhaps you think, "what hyperbole!"  Think again.  One of the ideas that Ray Bradbury explored in Fahrenheit 451, which was published way back in 1953, was this: the government in a future society decides that people reading books makes them unhappy.  Hence, the job of the "fire fighter" was to torch any book that was found, and to apprehend the book owner.  Remember?  Aha, you never read the book, did you?  Did you at least watch the "Thug Notes" in the previous post, where he provides a summary and an analysis?

Happy now?


Ramesh said...

Yes Yes Yes. Not too often can I say so on a post of yours.

We all know utopia can be the worst curse on mankind. We need unhappiness to really understand happiness. And of course, the "happiness industry" is an abomination.

No I hadn't read that book. Hadn't even heard of it. Well, that society is already on us, at least in China. Any "unacceptable book" is instantly torched.

Sriram Khé said...

After reading your comment, yet again my thought is: "how did you live as an un-free man in China for those many years?"

Anne in Salem said...

I agree. The sad, morose days make the happy days sweeter.

If we are all happy all the time, what will happen to the words curmudgeon and cantankerous? How will they morph? Into what unrecognizable word will they morph?

Sriram Khé said...

I have no idea about the curmudgeons and the cantankerous people you speak of ;)

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