Barlow on Happiness

I have nothing much to add to this. So I’ll just quote it alot.

Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.
– Chuang-Tzu (350 B.C.)

Openly agitating against the very pursuit of happiness was considered a sedition of the most insidious hazard. Because nearly everyone feels its weird invisible pressure – driving them to the fatigue that is despair, in order to acquire possessions that possessed them, money that turned their friends monstrous, addictions that turned them monstrous – nearly everyone feels that secret shame of not trying hard enough to be happy.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Africa over the last several years and, wherever I go in that supposedly dark continent, I am continuously amazed by how happy most people seem to be. Despite living with pandemic AIDS, starvation, filth, disease, and ghoulish little wars where children dismember one another, most Africans grin and wave as I pass through their villages. They seem to mean it, too. They would probably not have a similar experience were they to pass through our suburbs.

The apparent happiness of Africans, against all horror, seems to derive from a sense of connectedness, or as the Zulu put it, “ubunto.” This word is often translated to mean community, but one of them gave me what I think is a more accurate definition: “I am because we are; we are because I am.”

In other words, their pursuit of happiness seems more successful than ours because it is not a solitary endeavor. African happiness is a joint enterprise, something that can only be created by the whole. I am happy because we are happy. Much contentment arises from a sense of family, community, and connectedness.

We think AOL and the local mall are communities. We think that Disney, the corporation, is a story-teller. And, to the extent, we are connected at all, it is largely by mass media like television, which, as Bertrand Russell pointed out, “allows thousands of people to laugh at the same joke and still remain alone.”

Imagine an evening spent peering through the suburban windows of America. Think of the faces you would behold within, lit pale by the flickering blue bath of electrons Big Content blasts out for their “entertainment.” Slack-jawed and silent, one hand gripping a Bud, the other in a bag of Fritos, they watch other “people” pass through contrived “ordeals” and imagine themselves pursuing happiness.

But they are not pursuing happiness. They are seeking what I call The Zone, a mental and emotional condition where nothing happens. Nothing can happen except for the most rudimentary necessities of life and manufactured entertainment. When Zoned, they are left alone. They are being granted a twisted kind of peace.

Read the whole thing. You will be happy you did.






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