Our seemingly mainstream wetsern culture does have a real thing for happiness, doen’t it? I mean, it is the central theme of many of my blogs here… There are massive majorities of our culture and society that believe happiness to be the most important thing to attain in this life.
We also tend believe that people can achieve happiness if they pursue it, I’d pretty much be out of a job if that belief was not prevalent. I’d probably go as far as to say that neither of those beliefs are utterly and undesputably true… Yet the vast majority of us are motivated to be convinced of both of them… Let me explain why I mention this today…
I tend to believe that having the kind of beliefs I opened up with today do have some real social benefits: they create some acceptance and tolerance of differences in human lifestyles and behaviour (though obviously, not across the board!).
We do seem to accept that each individual can find there own path to happiness, whatever that might be. We can also be accepting and even applaud any number of unusual behaviours if we can see them as ways of pursuing and achieving happiness.
My local news show on the TV here “South Today” often shows individuals who left a high-ranking, incredibly well-paid city job for a life raising chickens, growing there own vegetables and so on… We see that as ok and acceptable, don’t we? We allow them their choice.
On the downside perhaps, hand in hand with the beliefs in the importance and achievability of happiness, can sometimes result in non-useful beliefs about the meaning of unhappiness.
Some tend to think that because we believe happiness to be an important achievement, unhappiness is sometimes a sign of under-achievement. Then if we believe happiness to be attainable by those that are strong, self-reliant, hard-working, and virtuous, in turn we sometimes tend to believe that unhappy people are weak, dependent, lazy, or even morally flawed.
I mentioned last week that I was going to do so… I watched as much of the comic relief TV cash generating effort as I could last Friday night… In the time of utter financial struggle, the UK donated £57 million!
I have long believed that our optimistic spirit is one of the best things us western cultures have going for us. In the middle of times that are supposed to be tough, we seem to have an inherent belief that things will be on the up again soon.
Whereas i have often thought the problem with our very biased preference for happiness, we then tend ignore, disown, and deride suffering and people who suffer… Last Friday, I started thinking slightly differently…
Modern, urban philosopher Cornel West has talked about American optimism as “cheap” because it exists in ignorance of the suffering of oppressed people of all kinds.
West says that empathy takes courage, and I think he is right. To empathise with someone who is in pain is to inflict pain on oneself. The thought process is that unless an individual is prepared to do that, the optimism they express may always be cheap.
West put my feet back down on the ground again… 😉
ps. Anyone go the Global Hypnosis Summit? … What a brilliant event! More on that soon…