The question, ‘What is Happiness?’ is an enigma. It is like the question, ‘What is time?’ of which St Augustine in ‘Confessions’ says, “If no one asks me I know, but when I am asked to explain I am at a loss, as I am not able to provide an answer”. Happiness, like the notion of time, is something about which we know but when asked to explain, we are at a loss to give a cogent answer. As Wittgenstein put, it is “something that we know when no one asks us, but no longer know when we are supposed to give an account of”.
Like Schopenhauer, we can say, ‘All happiness and gratification, is that which is negative, the mere abolition of a desire and extinction of pain’. This definition explains the fact that ‘as a rule we find pleasure much less pleasurable, pain much more painful than we expect’. In pain, time appears to stand still; in happiness, it takes wing.
Happiness is not a natural state of mind or body. If it were an innate passive state, Aristotle argues, “It might belong even to a man who slept all through his life, passing a vegetable existence, or to a victim of the greatest misfortune.” We have to strive and make a conscious effort to achieve happiness. Happiness is inherent in an activity. Happiness is not a means but an end in itself.
Happiness is distinct from pleasure. Pleasure can be abandoned after it is achieved, as its attainment marks the end of the quest for it. Happiness has no end. Happiness never surrenders to its fulfilment. It is a continuous, never-ending process of purging desires and annihilation of pain and suffering. It is perpetual.
The following thought experiment shows that happiness is not what we wish to achieve at any cost. Suppose we have a drug that induces in us extreme, infinite and perpetual happiness. But, it has a side effect that renders us infertile, making ours the last generation of human beings. Most of us will decline to take that drug as we value continuity of the human race above our individual or collective happiness because continuity of life has an intrinsic value higher than any other value. Thus, happiness alone cannot be the end of human conduct.
Charvakas, like other materialists, wrongly believe that summum bonum of happiness lies only in eating delicious food, keeping company of young men and women, using fine clothes, perfumes, garlands, anointing oneself with sandal paste and so on.
Aristotle argues, “Happiness lies in control of oneself and becoming master of one’s own passions and appetites”. He says, “Intemperate craving can never be satisfied. Temperate life is one in which one is content with whatever comes to hand and asks for no more”.
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