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Friday, August 20, 2010

So, Julian Baggini, what's it all about?

What is happiness? For me, it's travel, cats doing funny things, taking action to improve the quailty of the environment and, of course, ice cream. For world-renowned philosopher and academic Julian Baggini, however, the answer is a bit more complicated (though I bet he is still partial to a choc chip cup.. mmmm). Anyway, he knows a thing or two about happiness, and he cares to share it in 'What's it all about: philosophy and the meaning of life'.

instant source of happiness:

Summary of Baggini, J. What it’s all about: philosophy and the meaning of life, (London: Granta, 2004), 97-105.

In the chapter entitled ‘As long as you’re happy’, Julian Baggini examines the meaning of happiness. The achievement of a state of happiness, he says, is an elusive concept, and not necessarily the best goal in life. In the ‘virtually happy’ section, he looks at different forms of feeling happy, and what makes for an ‘authentic’ happiness experience. Baggini suggests there are different quantities and qualities of happiness, based on current circumstances or needs. In the final section, ‘Seek and you shall not find’, Baggini warns against following vacuous advertising and magazine images in the hope of finding happiness. His central argument appears to be that it is up to the individual to define what brings them fulfillment, and the pursuit of this – rather than the shining promise of something called ‘happiness’ – will lead to a truly satisfied life. 
In Baggini’s view, happiness is important – but it does not necessarily take precedence over everything else. He questions whether the pursuit of happiness for happiness’ sake is really worthwhile if it’s just a product of biochemistry. There is a difference, he argues, between having the experience of a good life and actually having a good life, a life that is a product of hard work, ability and achievement. What is the difference between this, he asks, and spending your life hooked onto a ‘happiness machine’? It appears that happiness is a process, and an experience fuelled by effort, not just something we can pinpoint and then tap into.

People’s understanding of happiness depends on their value systems. A starving person, Baggini suggests, would easily accept bread as a source of happiness rather than a Ferrari. A person whose experience of ‘real’ life is torture, may also prefer to be hooked onto a pleasure-inducing machine rather than life in permanent pain. Happiness is not a universal concept, but something that depends on each individual in accordance with circumstances they are in.

The chapter also warns against separation of the state of general ‘happiness’ and the self. The media and advertising world would have us all believe that happiness is always somewhere else. Generic happiness comes packaged in a six pack, with an array of luxury goods and a promise of great sex on tap. However, as Baggini identifies, these advertisements are successful precisely because they are aspirational, and have nothing to do with reality. If people actually achieved this dream body and lifestyle, they would be busy searching for something else to fill their inherent void. We can’t put a face or a price tag on happiness. It is something that has to be achieved through a process of self-realisation and knowing what makes us feel fulfilled.

Baggini concludes that happiness comes in many ‘shades and tones’, and we have to develop resilience and a positive outlook. The ‘modern myth’ of happiness, he says, is nothing but just that – a myth, based on unrealistic expectations and the media’s desire to fuel our consumerism and need for satisfaction. A constant and complete state of joy is unnatural for human beings, and we cannot simply lay claim to things that we ought to never take for granted, such as a healthy body, loving family or enjoyable ways of making a living. First, we need to look within to find passion, vision and energy to commit to doing the things we love, and happiness will take care of itself. 

.....Which is all a fancy way of saying... DO WHAT YOU LOVE.

-Victoria A.

1 comment:

  1. I try to read one to two new Blogs each day. It can be like sifting through sand, there is so much of it that finding the gem can be difficult.
    I posted an article on happiness back in January.

    The picture of the kitten hooked me!