"Happiness is a way of life," reads the graffiti, crudely spray painted on the wall. I read these walls as I drive towards campus, not having time and the ability to take a photograph of these words. But it has been "fermenting" in my mind for the whole day now. I have spent numerous times on Hive trying to understand happiness, from being a fleeting moment, similar to trying to grasp at clouds to eating an ice cream. And here this graffiti artwork tells me happiness is merely a way of life. Now, as a philosopher, one can analyse this statement on two levels. And doing this, one might come to a better understanding of this simple statement with some profound insight.
Breaking down this sentence into its singular elements, two things stand out. "Happiness" is a "way of life", that is, whatever we understand happiness to be is thus lived on a daily basis so that we do not consciously think about it. But this is also where we run into some problems. What is happiness?
What is happiness?
The general idea surrounding happiness, I would argue, is having enough. This can be having enough food, shelter, friends, money, and so on. Obviously, if one chases money as a form of happiness, one will end up in a strange loop in which no amount of money will ever be enough. I do not want to sound like a utilitarian, but some forms of happiness is better than others. Chasing money might not be similar to chasing the fulfillment of basic needs.
Happiness is a strange thing, it is highly subjective, that is, each person has their own understanding of what happiness is to them or then what happiness is in a general sense. Let us for a moment go with happiness as highly subjective.
This subjective understanding of happiness thus relies on a person knowing what is best for them. What is best for you is not necessarily best for me. I would love drinking an ice-cold beer, you might not like the taste of beer. If happiness is achieved through the drinking of a beer for me, and not for you, I cannot claim that "beer is the key to happiness," as it will only pertain to me.
But even in this understanding of happiness, we can hit some stumbling blocks or problems. Do we really know what is best for us? I think we can quickly relinquish the idea that corporations or states or religions or any of these super structures know what is best for us. Rarely is it the case that the king will know what is good for the pauper. Mostly, the king will know what is best for him, which is eventually the reason why someone is a pauper. Structural problems. So, we can quickly get rid of the idea that "those on top" know what is best for me here "at the bottom".
Turning to friends and family or those ones closely related to my inner network, one might state the same. Rarely is it the case that someone else knows what is best for me, what is happiness for me. From the outside, another beer might not look so good for me and my happiness in the perspective of a concerned friend, but what do they really know about my subjective experience of happiness? And even if it might be right, that I should not have another beer, it cannot be a rule of thumb that others know what is best for me and my search for happiness.
But am I myself a good judge about what is best for me and my search for happiness? That is, do I really know what will bring me true happiness, and not something destructive? If I search for infinite supplies of money and in the process I end up hurting the very thing I am searching for, will I not end up being more destructive? What if that second beer is not really good for my health and therefore my happiness, but I falsely think that it will end up making me happy? Am I really the best judge of my own happiness?
The False Sense of Happiness as a Way of Life
If I choose the wrong thing to chase after in the search for happiness, my life will end up miserable. If I think that my happiness may lie in the search for infinite riches, and I do not obtain that level of wealth, I will forever be unhappy. But what if I did not end up on that path, might I not have obtained happiness through other measures?
Now we might have stumbled upon something worth pursuing: ascertaining what happiness is, is a very large part of finding happiness.
If I continue to create my own unhappiness, something needs to give so that I might search for something better. Ending up chasing the wrong thing will have detrimental effects on one's life. So many people have the false idea of how to get happiness, and even if happiness is only a fleeting idea resting on the notion that it is continually changed throughout one's life, we want to be able to ascertain what it is. This will help me live my happiness.
A way of life...
It seems really easy to say that happiness is a way of life. But hopefully as I demonstrated above if one chooses the wrong path living that "happiness" can be detrimental. All of these phrases have the same problem. Happiness is a state of mind, happiness is finding purpose, happiness is XYZ. Not being able to ascertain what happiness is, is the problem. But it is not so easy to simply identify what happiness is.
If it is subjective, we can easily obtain massive amounts of data that we humans rarely know what is best for us. But merely looking at history, we can also quickly say that states, families, and so on, rarely know what is best for us either. So how might I ever ascertain what is best for me?
And that is the real problem.
Yes, happiness is a way of life. But finding what happiness is, is a life long journey. We might never find out what is best of us, we might never really be happy. But the thing is, happiness is a lifelong journey, one that never ends. Or, maybe this is merely my own false path I am walking on...
Postscriptum, or Happiness is this way and that way and now we are lost
Happiness, for me, is the search for happiness. This way of life, always searching, is one that feels right for me. Settling down is destructive as it forces routine on me. Continually searching, always inquiring, is something that resonates with me on a deep level.
But again, this might not be for everyone. Stock answers rarely lead to anything.
In any case, enjoy your journey on finding what happiness is for you. Live it then as soon as you found it.
The writings in this post are my own, albeit inspired by the graffiti I saw on my way. The photographs used in this post are also my own, taken with my Nikon D300.