XIX. Emotions and Happiness

There are various definitions of happiness, and little consensus between psychologists or philosophers on exactly what it means to be "happy."

Some assert that it is a state in which we are experiencing no pain - but others retort that this is not happiness but mere contentment. Others suggest it is a state in which all our desires are satisfied and we have no desire - but this, too, is contentment, and does not account for the happiness that occurs in anticipation of fulfillment rather than in its wake.

In all, the only ground for agreement is that happiness is experienced when the aggregate amount of pleasure exceeds the aggregate amount of pain, and its intensity depends on the quantity of excess. And it is generally supposed that to be happy is the primary motivation of every person, which ultimately justifies all short-term objectives.

Both religion and philosophy encourage man to think beyond the moment, and to sacrifice immediate pleasures as a means to gain a much greater and more long-lasting satisfaction in future. Philosophy regards this moment in life as less important than the future effects of our present actions, whereas religion regards the entire span of life as less important than the eternal reward of constant sacrifice.

Those who promote social values offer the same reward, but in the sense of the scope of the impact. The pleasure of oneself is subordinated to the pleasure of others, based on the belief that an individual sacrifice of some pleasures creates a society that returns to him greater pleasures.

There are few religions of philosophies that can survive if they promote pain, suffering, sacrifice, and unhappiness for its own sake. These things are only appealing for the sake of earning a reward that is worth the unpleasant necessities of earning it. Even the ascetics whose physical lives are intentionally devoid of any comfort seek to be rewarded with the intellectual or spiritual pleasure that will be delivered by the attainment of a higher level of consciousness that results from physical deprivation.

It is widely held that pain and pleasure are natural signals to man: if he experiences pain, it is nature's method of discouraging him from the course he has chosen. If he experiences pleasure, it is her encouragement to continue on the same path. But at the same time we recognize the necessity of enduring the unpleasant in order to achieve pleasure.

Philosophy and religion also categorize and rank the kinds of happiness, and generally agree upon the order:

  1. Intellectual or Spiritual happiness - The greatest and most enduring pleasure comes from the fulfillment of intellectual and spiritual goals.
  2. Emotional Happiness - A lesser form of pleasure is derived from gratifying the emotions
  3. Physical happiness - The most base and fleeting form of pleasure comes of satisfying physical desires

Ultimately, this hierarchy is used to guide the behavior of men to making economically advantageous trades - to abstain from physical pleasures in order to experience emotional or intellectual pleasure is promoted as a wise exchange.

It is also observed that the various theorists who seem to denigrate the notion of happiness are actually encouraging such economic exchanges among kinds of happiness. And in a similar manner, they discourage the more base and vulgar forms of happiness, namely gratification of the physical kind, in exchange for happiness of a more valued class.

(EN: This is common, but by no means universal. There are systems of religion and philosophy that regard the classes of happiness as hierarchical - and stress the importance of being fulfilled on the basic level before the higher levels can be obtained. That is, our physical needs must be met before we can tend to the fulfillment of emotional needs, and emotional needs must be fulfilled before the intellectual needs can be addressed. This is reflected in psychology by Maslow's hierarchy, in which the pain caused by lack of fulfillment on a lower level prevents us from being attentive to the higher levels.)

It is also mentioned that pleasure and pain are considered to be in conflict with one another - and in order to experience pleasure one must either abolish pain or develop the ability to bear it. Stoicism, for example, is not the practice of embracing pain, but in recognizing and dismissing it as unimportant. Rather than fulfilling the basic desires, the pain caused by their lack of fulfillment is simply ignored, as a means to remain attentive to the higher forms of happiness.

The urge to seek pleasure and avoid pain is the basis of all human desire. Desire is the basis of motivation and motivation is the basis for all action. So a firm understanding of happiness and its causes is essential to understanding human behavior.