Manchester Armchair Philosophers Meeting 20th March 2013 What Is Happiness Lloyds Bar Chorlton Manchester
The nature of happiness is quite essential in philosophy, and our hostess, Mary Crumpton, is a life Coach and Happiness advisor.
Our meeting took place on the United Nations Day of universal happiness awareness, so it felt very pertinent and relevant for everyone.
Mary asked us to state who we consider to be our ‘happiness heroes’. Answers offered included the writers of Dr. Who, Tommy Cooper, Tony Hancock, Galton & Simpson, the comedy writers, Jerome K Jerome, and George Melly.
A more surprising suggestion here was Leonard Cohen, as many consider his work depressing, but the suggestion was accompanied by an indication that his work is often wider ranging in its look at human feelings.
My own suggestion was Chorlton-Cum Hardy, The Happiness Dragon in the children’s TV series, Chorlton And The Wheelies, a figure named after the town we met in, and to who misery is a meaningless concept.
Most of us clearly admired humorists and comedy related heroes while happiness can be either short term, or prolonged and sustainable. A visit to a comedy club, a nice cup of tea, etc, might brighten things up in the short run, while knowing you have a secure mortgage, steady work, enough food to last a few months, etc, has a more prolonged effect on us.
Happiness is a fundamental human goal, and it seems easier to be happy if you have a higher quality of life – peacetime, job security and material affluence seem to make happiness easier than endless toil, endurance of war, famine, oppression, etc.
However, many see materialism as an illusion of happiness and seek simpler, more ascetic pleasure in escaping from material desire. The hermetic Buddhist or Christian monk can be happy in his cave-hovel, and appalled by the millionaire with a mansion, swimming pool and private Lear Jet.
To pessimistic philosophers, like Schopenhauer, happiness is harder to gain, or maintain. Then there are masochists, who find pleasure in pain and denial – to many; this is a contradiction in terms.
Much humour is cruel, finding fleeting happiness in the misfortunes of otters – the funny side of seeing someone fall on a banana skin, but to others, happiness is something to share and spread, rather than a commodity to keep for ourselves. Utilitarians see the need to create happiness for all, or at least a majority. Sadly, the teachings of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill suggest to somewhat a majority of 51% can be happy with the lack of happiness of the 49% minority.
Happiness can be measured in both quantity and quality – finding £20 can mean an unexpected night out on the town while a sudden inheritance of £20,000 would mean a longer period of happiness. However, many people gaining lots of money use it badly and become unhappy or even flat broke again quickly.
Achievements in life, both great and small, ease the stresses of life, temporarily or in the long run. A great observation was that while there is a recognized medical condition called clinical depression, there is no such identified condition as clinical happiness.
Happiness is affected by change – if things improve, we are happy – negative changes in our lives take happiness off us.
We found that just thinking and talking so openly of happiness made us all happier – it was therapeutic. It made us think of the things that make us happy ourselves and we often found ourselves sharing jokes and humorous anecdotes as the discussion went on.
Happiness can be generated in unusual ways – we can find as much joy in a Shakespeare tragedy like Hamlet as in the comedies such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Alas, happiness cannot itself be given out in pills, though of course, medication that eases pain, from Aspirin to beta-blockers, can make us happier.
Wealth and fame are all too often seen as essential to happiness, but many wealthy and rich, talented people have taken their own lives – Hemmingway, for example.
Happiness can sustain us in times of oppression and great need too. Kitty Hart, a survivor of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, wrote in her autobiography of the happiest day in her captivity, when she and a fellow Jewish prisoner found a half-used tube of toothpaste discarded by an SS guard, and the duo partied on it for a few glorious minutes, that helped raise their spirits enormously.
To some religionists, such as Christian Puritans, too much happiness in this life means more likelihood of eternal misery in the afterlife. In Medieval Britain, some Catholic priests who used jokes, and dressing as clowns, to successfully attract more congregations, were criticised by church elders for not taking the role more seriously.
Happiness seemed very equated with humour and fun for many – the politically correct brigade, and fun police seem intent on robbing us of life’s pleasures. Beer, chips, sexual freedoms, etc are seen as bad forms of hedonism to these neo-Puritans. Of course, excess will kill us – the nice buzz of alcohol or drugs can spill over into aggression, and incoherence, if not into addiction.
While many philosophers have been downbeat and bleak in outlook, as with Bertrand Russell, Sartre and Neitzsche, a few have been more pro-happiness. Albert Camus saw life as an absurdity. He subverted Sartre’s sense of our freedom to choose being a curse and regarded it as a blessing. Camus lived life to the max until his passion for speeding led to his tragic death in a car crash.
Camus also gave us one of philosophy’s greatest pronouncements on happiness – the notion that Sisyphus, condemned to the eternal drudgery of rolling a rock up a hill, could find happiness despite the pain and tedious – to Camus happiness is something to take at every opportunity, no matter how badly our lives seem to suck.
Overall, my own life leaves me contented, despite limited income and work at present. Knowing people like those in the Armchair Philosophers in it is a cause of much happiness for me. Where else could I mention Chorlton & The Wheelies and Arthur Schopenhauer in the same sentence?
Link – Chorlton And The Wheelies – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzP3qXvgsJI