Happiness – illusive or illusory?

I’ve discovered, through Motherhood is Not for Wimps,  Penelope Trunk Brazen Careerist. I just read a post that had me at the first paragraph:

I think I’m over the happiness thing. I think I am thinking that the pursuit of happiness is, well, vacuous. I don’t think people are happy or unhappy. Because I think knowing if we are happy would require knowing the meaning of life, or the ultimate goal, or the key to the world, or something that, which really, we are not going to find outside of blind religious fanaticism.

She could have stopped right there and I would be forever in her debt for perfectly phrasing a point I have often considered, but never been able to articulate.

But go read the rest of the post, because it actually gets bettter. In it, she struggles with the idea that some people are fulfilled by information, and maybe don’t need other people for their happiness. I am by no means one of these, so I probably shouldn’t comment. But I know people who seem to be, so I think it might be true.

She also makes some excellent points about folks who want to maximize their stimuli, versus those who don’t. The later group seem to always be defending their choice – something that makes me go hmmmm…, do we protest a bit too much?   I wouldn’t be happy in NYC, I’m sure. The choices would overwhelm me. Even in my (backwater) city, the fact that there are so many venues for entertainment (that I never even investigate) somewhat alarms me. So the post made me reflect on who I am and the choices I make.

 I’ve read some of the literature about the psychology of happiness that precipitated Ms. Trunk’s discussion. I feel that though I am perhaps not always exactly happy, I  certainly I have elements of it.  And one of them is gratitude, for the situation I find myself in, and in particular, that I am able to live in a not-so-big centre, where I can decompress occasionally.

But I do think that she confuses people who are “content” with those who are “complacent”. I think that I can be content,  without being complacent, and often not even exactly happy.   Despite  a tendency to worry about the future, I am very pleased with my present and am very grateful indeed to have what I do.

But I suspect that I’ve just proved Ms. Trunk’s point about some people feeling compelled to rationalize their choice, particularly those who chose not to live in a choice-maximizing circumstance.

So put me down as relatively content, and just a bit sensitive about it.


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