Sunday, May 07, 2006

happiness is a warm puppy?

just got back from the temple dinner dance. all mothers who have been to countless bnei mitzvah parties are experts at the electric slide. rabbis don't usually get invited to those parts of the celebration so i am not much good at that dance. in my day, as we fogeys say, you either did this skip and kick thing like clare out of altered images who was in gregory's girl, or you pogoed. i can pogo. just not in heels. and not in a dress. and not at the temple dinner dance. and not to "tears of a clown".

so i am reading through tomorrow's english papers (i do like the idea that i am reading the news before it is the news, plus i get to do the polygon puzzle before my mother!), and find this article about happiness. the writer - frank furedi - does seem to have a political perspective, especially since he suggests that as a current "buzz word" of the time, the government is pushing the vague idea of happiness as a way of covering up its lack of ideas. he does not hold back:

"Back in the 1940s and '50s, the big idea was the Welfare State. Today it is the Happy State. Stalin, who called himself the "constructor of happiness" would approve. So would the Controller in Huxley's Brave New World, who believed that making people happy was the precondition for stable government"

stalin and orwell in consecutive comments?! although he doesn't seem to think the tories can do any better. so, ok, he is slamming the politicians. but there are a couple of paragraphs that got me thinking ...

"People have always pursued happiness. Policy makers have always hoped their initiatives would make people happy. But happiness was not seen as an end in itself. Teachers hoped that their students would be happy with their experience but did not set out to teach their pupils how to be happy. Those charged with moral education were devoted to explaining the difference between good and bad but not to instructing children how to feel."

happiness was not an end in itself. that's the thing. i have to think about that a lot, and now am just writing as it comes to mind ... there are ideas like the messianic age and nirvana and heaven ... the ultimate reward is absolute peace and wholeness ... but not absolute in this life. a difference between slavery and freedom is that a slave is told to do or do not; while a free person is told this is what is going on, and then left to decide what to do.

maybe furedi is just poking us with a stick. he says that:

"Today's turn towards the management of people's internal life is motivated by moral disorientation and political exhaustion. Unimaginative politicians who are unable to decide what needs to be done - or implement the appropriate policies - feel more comfortable with instructing the public how it should feel."

and that

"Discontent and ambition have driven humanity to confront and overcome the challenges they faced. That is why people like the Controller in Brave New World want us live on a diet of "feelies" and "scent organs". That is also why we should be suspicious of experts who seek to colonise our internal life"

the british senses of freedom and justice are bound to feel piqued by analogies with totalitarian states real and imagined.

i, however, want to hear more about this "moral disorientation" to which he refers. and who does he believe should be charged with moral education today?

i also need to think about how i would define happiness. i just punched the word into google and got 106,000,000 results. some of the titles on the first page:

finding happiness and self-actualisation

you are amazing - don't let anyone or anything take that away from you! @

70 day life makeover

a guide to having it all

be happy - create your ideal life

20 minute breakthrough - uncover miracle that melts mental roadblocks and live your dreams now

authentic happiness - using the new positive psychology

the rational basis of happiness

the happiness project

and from the definition given at

2. An agreeable feeling or condition of the soul arising from good fortune or propitious happening of any kind; the possession of those circumstances or that state of being which is attended with enjoyment; the state of being happy; contentment; joyful satisfaction; felicity; blessedness.

o dear, i am getting tired just as i am getting interested.

this kind of happiness seems to centre on the self, and have little connection to anyone or anything else except in how they affect this happiness.

is it healthy to have this feeling all the time?
is it an escape from the unpleasant things in the world?

today i was listening to the cd of the tertiary phase of hitch-hiker's guide to the galaxy. near the end, ford prefect tries to explain to arthur that the reason nobody can see slartibartfast's spaceship parked behind the sight-screen at lords cricket ground is due to a phenomenon called a "somebody else's problem". it works through the fact that people don't want to see things that force them out of the status quo, and so they actually do not see them. much easier than making a spaceship invisible.

anyway, thoughts of drugs and drink and nicotine and sugar and carbs all being used to numb ourselves to the painful things in life ... the good things are an antidote, i.e., to relieve or counteract; a remedy against - but they do not obliterate all traces.

a warm puppy would be lovely right now, though :-)
good night.


  1. more rabbis should learn how to do the electric slide.


    --RC of

  2. Don't stop now you were just getting going