sábado, novembro 13, 2010

Happiness Is Overrated.

A versão em Português deste texto está aqui: 'A felicidade, essa superestimada'.

What makes you happy? What is happiness? How do you measure happiness? Is it measurable?

I have the impression that many people never get to ask these questions and, probably, don’t even seek to try answering them. Even if people are not necessarily concerned with knowing what happiness is and what makes them happy, the vast majority seems to be pursuing happiness. Regardless of what I understand (or ignore) about happiness, the fact is that the Brazilian National Congress is moving to ensure the right to the pursuit of happiness for their citizens (there is a Financial Times article about it). That's right: there is a Constitutional Amendment Project (Projeto de Emenda Constitucional or simply PEC, in Portuguese) which aims to include the 'pursuit of happiness' as a fundamental right in the chapter of the Brazilian Federal Constitution which deals with social rights (more precisely, in Article 6).

The project is being called 'happiness amendment' and is promoted by Movimento Mais Feliz (The Happiest Movement, in a free translation). The idea seems to be very promising. However, in my opinion, the 'happiness amendment' does not change a thing. It's too much rhetoric for little action. Even knowing that such amendment is not intended to guarantee happiness, but rather the pursuit of it by each citizen, I cannot agree with it.

Firstly, because I understand that such a provision needs not to be written in the Constitution. As a concept, the Constitution should not be used to establish a social right loaded with as much subjectivity as the 'pursuit of happiness'.

Secondly, because, frankly, such provision being in the Brazilian Federal Constitution or not doesn't make any difference. What would really make a difference would be to actually guarantee a good education system, a working and cheap healthcare system, etc. (which, incidentally, is already provided in the Constitution, in the same Article 6, which the Brazilian National Congress seeks to alter by the 'happiness amendment' – and so far we have not seen any major changes...). Happiness, then, could come as a direct result. Perhaps not, because it depends on each person and what each person reckon as happiness. In short, the inclusion of the 'happiness amendment' won't provide any real difference for the citizens.

Finally, and most importantly, I cannot agree with the 'happiness amendment' because such a provision assumes that there is a full and unrestricted happiness, which can be enjoyed by any person to whom is guaranteed certain social rights. The truth is that happiness is much overrated by modern society (especially in a capitalist one), which worship it and poses it as an ultimate objective to be achieved, alongside with glory, fame and money. What I see out there on happiness is a very overrated, unrealistic, unattainable and distant from reality concept, by which happiness is always two steps ahead of where people stand. The pursuit of happiness, then, becomes an unnecessary pressure that hinders the conjugation of the verb ‘to live’.

Personally, I try not to keep the pursuit of happiness in my mind. To be honest, I've given up looking for it, not because I have concluded that it does not exist or because I understand that it is unattainable. But, rather, because I believe that pursuing happiness is not the most important thing in life. What happiness means and represents, whether it is near or far, is something that doesn’t really interest me. I acknowledge that I have lived many happy moments and I value each one of them (I am living heaps of joyful moments here in London!). I prefer, however, to not carry the burden of having happiness as a goal and to not pursuit it as a life objective. All I wish is to happiness show up from time to time, randomly and unpretentiously.

Perhaps there is no such thing as happiness as portrayed in Hollywood films, novels, etc., rather happy moments, which often are not noticed immediately as they happen, but further in life, when remembering the good old times. And that should be enough.

* * *

For further consideration for those interested, I quote below some passages on the topic and the links to the websites where I found them (I apologize that the original texts are in Portuguese... Google Translate does a good job if you want to read the whole text):

What is happiness? How do you define happiness? The films show us an utopian happiness. The novels, ditto. I dream of a day at the beach, palm trees, blue sky, cloudless, preferably with a beautiful woman and being put grapes in my mouth. I find it hard to happen, but who knows. Everything is so pretentious. Everything has to be so sophisticated. We are never satisfied with what we have. I bet if I was at the beach, with palm trees, a beautiful day and a beautiful woman, I would still miss the shadow.
(Simplicity or do you want to fight before sleeping? by Daniel Bushatsky)

In terms of happiness, governments can provide the best possible conditions for each individual to pursue his project – for example, as suggested by the proposed constitutional amendment, guaranteeing all basic social rights. But the best government does not prefer a specific kind of happiness for the citizens.
(The Right to Pursue Happiness by Contardo Calligaris)

In my humble opinion, the weak point of this article and similar ones is a complete inability to define ... Happiness! After all, what is happiness? Is it a state of ecstasy? Is it moments of transcendence? Is it simply the absence of pain? Is it pleasure? How to measure it objectively? How to measure it objectively for people of different cultures with different values, with different priorities?
(Having Kids Makes People More Sad. Or not by Alex Castro)

* * *

The greater certainty about happiness was sung by Vinicius de Moraes and Tom Jobim:

Though sadness lingers on
Soon happiness is gone
Happiness is like a little feather
The wind has carried up into the air
Floating so free
Yet it can only be
As long as there’s a breeze to hold it there

Below, the performance of this song by Tom Zé:

This post is a translation by myself of the post 'A Felicidade, Essa Superstimada', written in Portuguese.

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