Delight Springs

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Happy to see the light of day

Philosophers of happiness, no less than any of us, experience their own weal and woe variably and moodily.

There are moments and days of stoic gratitude when our respective Sisyphean rocks feel lighter and we think, this is good. This may be as good as it gets. William James was having such a day when he wrote:
Happiness, I have lately discovered, is no positive feeling, but a negative condition of freedom from a number of restrictive sensations of which our organism usually seems to be the seat. When they are wiped out, the clearness and cleanness of the contrast is happiness. Letters
I have more and more of those days myself, lately, when the small nagging annoyances and aches and pains of everyday are in temporary abeyance. I'm much more sympathetic to them than I used to be. "Negative?" Not at all. "Freedom!" I think that's what some call "aging." Or nothing left to lose.

There are other occasions when the dominant mood is more robust, strenuous, and euphoric. Sometimes even ecstatic. That's the kind of day James must have been having, only weeks before he died in 1910, when he answered Henry Adams' dark ruminations on entropy and cosmic death.
Though the ultimate state of the universe may be its vital and psychical extinction, there is nothing in physics to interfere with the hypothesis that the penultimate state might be the millennium — in other words a state in which a... maximum of happy and virtuous consciousness would be the only result. In short, the last expiring pulsation of the universe's life might be, "I am so happy and perfect that I can stand it no longer." You don't believe this and I don't say I do . But I can find nothing in "Energetik" to conflict with its possibility. 
I'm likeliest to be in that mood during and just after my morning walk, when all is positive possibility.

And then there are the quieter, more reflective times, when the larger and longer meanings of life give happiness a depth and satisfaction it misses on those lower and higher days. That's the feeling I get from "What Makes a Life Significant":
The solid meaning of life is always the same eternal thing,— the marriage, namely, of some unhabitual ideal, however special, with some fidelity, courage, and endurance; with some man's or woman 's pains.—And, whatever or wherever life may be, there will always be the chance for that marriage to take place.
The reflective mood yokes happiness and meaning most effectively. It's Sissela Bok's starting place in Exploring Happiness, when she marvels at her mother's decision to risk the pregnancy that became her life.
THE MIND REELS AT THE THOUGHT OF THE INFINITESIMAL chances that any one of us had of being born, able to relish even the slightest glimmer of happiness... Were it not for  my young mother's newfangled ideas about happiness, I would never have seen the light of day.
In whatever mood, we can be happy to see the light of day.

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