Musings, Day Five

“Happiness is Man’s greatest aim in life. Tranquility and rationality are the cornerstones of happiness.” –Epicurus

I don’t think I would ever be caught describing myself as a “happy” person. In fact, I don’t recall being happy at all during my adult life. Not really. These days, when people ask me if I feel happy, my response is invariably the same: “Happy? That’s a bit strong– Content would be more accurate.”

Of course, most people equate happiness with a rather jubilant emotional state. Personally, I think Epicurus had the right idea in that happiness, or rather, pleasure, is simply a tranquil absence of pain.

Many people misunderstand or misrepresent Epicurus’ philosophy as one of Hedonism. But that is simply not true. And pleasure may not be so easy to define as some might think. To quote one example I read in the Messner-Loeb graphic novel, two examples, or objects, are presented; carousing versus taking a math exam.

When a person goes carousing, they drink until they make themselves quite drunk, intoxication being pleasurable. Perhaps they get into a fight or two, or perhaps they drink until they become ill. And the next morning, they suffer dreadfully from hangover– fat, furry tongue…headache…nausea and vomiting…fatigue…memory loss…. Perhaps an hour or so of pleasure, but paid for with hours of misery.

On the other hand, when taking a math test, you feel a small bit of pleasure when you solve one equation. A small achievement, perhaps; but you take pleasure in being able to solve it and arrive at the correct answer. And then, you get to go on to the next question. Technically speaking, you could have a potentially limitless source of pleasure (in practice, at least a few hours) without any ill effects. And you come through with a bit more knowledge, skill, and understanding than you had before.

To describe happiness in like fashion– merely to be free of misery– is good enough for me. I suffer from clinical depression, and so perhaps for me, happiness, as popularly understood, is too lofty a goal for which to strive. But a mere absence of physical and emotional pain? That I can handle.

As Grammom used to say, “There’s more to life than being happy!”

(Note: Is happiness, in fact, a choice? Have I really the ability to make the choice to be happy? Marcus Aurelius might say so. I remember a line from a Terry Gilliam movie, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, in which the Baron concludes one of his tales with the line, “And they all– those who had a talent for it– lived happily ever after!” Is that a talent I can acquire or learn…?)

About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a high school ESOL teacher, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in Beijing's Dongcheng district
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