We humans are a happy lot...not so much. When we look around we can see who is happy and who is not. My dogs are happy. We have four of them. Each one has its own kind of happiness. Some are happier than others. The least intelligent is much more happy than the smartest one. Animals have a simple happiness which humans cannot easily posses. We become gradually burdened down with this wonderful consciousness. This accumulation of all things human.
Most children are happy, sort of, say from toddler age to middle school. Adults, adolescents, various persons of deprived social status are happy periodically...when they are tipsy, or at a party, or engaged with their friends and social group. Some of us are not happy very much at all. In fact we are kind of negative. (This is a real dirty word. If you want to put someone down, just say they are negative...that'll fix 'em.)
Have you ever noticed that babies "learn" to be happy. At birth they mostly feel hunger, and pain but not much else for a while. Often though, they learn to laugh before they even learn a word, like "Mama". And the parents are so very delighted when baby does laugh...wow, that's a happy baby! These babies keep growing and they keep learning happiness, family, friends, toys, kittys, doggies, ice cream, candy. Wow this is fun! Its fun to play and mess with video games, this is the life. So baring tragedy, childhood is usually a very happy thing.
Then Mommy and Daddy say you have to go to school to get smart. Try to be at the head of the class. There's lots of competition so you have to study when you want to do other things like video games. So little irritations start popping up. You run into a bad bully at school, you have teachers who are strict and everything begins to tense up. Mommy insist that you join lots of extra curricular activities and the competition increases and the tension notches up. Uh oh, I'm not so happy about some of this! (I am beginning to learn unhappiness). Seems like the smarter we get the unhappier we get. Is it true that ignorance is bliss? Should we remain uneducated so we can have some happiness?
Knowledge is cumulative. When the child learns that some day he will die, that never leaves him. And when the teacher who is responsible teaches about how the environment is being destroyed and there are too many people in the world and that a very large number of people are very poor and do not have enough food, the knowledge of all these things begins to accumulate. If this little person who is in the process of becoming a mature person and a citizen of the world, does not close his eyes and his ears, he will learn a whole world of disturbing things which accumulate inside and it becomes a burden. He learns and is actually "taught" that there are a whole lot of people in the world who are "bad" and not to be trusted! We learn the fear which accompanies human intelligence.
So it becomes NORMAL and natural that fear builds up in a person and tends to destroy the happiness which was seemingly a birth right of childhood! We thought that the American Dream was a statement of substance: an inalienable right,"...life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
This is when we learn to lie to ourselves...so as to preserve some of the happiness which was so delightful in our youth. We build fantasies and dreams. We convince ourselves that we can be happy in the future. We dream of the great things and fun thing we will do. "Not to worry, we can create some happiness and life will be good again." This can go on for a life time and we never realize that we are mostly living in the past on the great things we did and we are living in the future on the great things we will do and all the great things we will learn, and all the money we will make, then we will be happy! But we do not so much realize that the ONLY thing we actually have is now the eternal present. We tend to not live in today. Our mind is elsewhere. We are living on dreams.
Not saying that dreams are not good to have. Because a dream can never come true if one has never had a dream.
So the things we learn in life tend to be mostly the things which reduce our happiness, destroying the innocence of childhood, replacing it with the morbid reality of eventual death. When my father died, my sister Carolyn and I had to go through all the remaining possessions. Our brother Paul had been dead 23 years. Mother had been dead 7 years. What was left of our beautiful family was in boxes of photos and records. In the bottom of Dad's file cabinet I found a group of house plans. These house plans were all the homes they had ever built or dreamed of building. They were there in my hands. It included the plan of the last home. A thought took over my mind, here in my hands are all the dreams that my parents had ever had or would have. They are all gone...all spent.
Since we can't "unlearn" the things which destroy our happiness, perhaps we could learn how to be happy with a different focus. Joshua Foa Dienstag speaks of a "well educated conscience". Could we teach ourselves to be happy again? Perhaps American education; the philosophy of it, has emphasized the wrong thing. From grammar school through college education, the philosophy of education should be aimed at preparing human beings for life not just for being smart and making money. Perhaps our American "education" is deficient in ethics and soul. Its the greedy who wish to live in a world without ethics and compassion! At every level we should teach our next generations music, art, literature, theater, and philosophy. Being just a math whiz, or science and computer whiz is not near enough. A more responsible education can build a sense humor and a sense of heroism in the face of the reality of living the life of a human being who is conscious of the past, the present, and the future and all the frightening realities they contain. If the gift of consciousness makes it difficult to be happy, perhaps we should just accept that fact and be heroes; just laugh about it. Dienstag quotes Leopardi in saying, "laughter is no less proper and peculiar to man than reason is." He adds, "we(humans) do not only laugh out of pleasure, but just as often, out of pain". A heroic attitude about life can arise from what seem to be ashes when we think as Dienstag suggests when he quotes Rousseau's famous challenge,"Live, and be great and unhappy"!
Modern man has come to believe in a series of ideas as the way to live a happy life: a good education, obtaining wealth and possessions, and living in a political system which provides complete freedom. But it's obvious that we have not been successful; the pursuit of happiness as we have defined it isn't working. We've been ignoring some realities. Perhaps we can as individuals teach ourselves a focus which will bring the answer,"yes" to this question, "Is life worth living?".