Darrin McMahon over at Cato Unbound has an interesting essay on happiness. I recommend it for a read, or at least the excerpt below. Also, I highly recommend listening to this message from Ravi Zacharias regarding the pursuit of pleasure, or pleasure rightly defined. It is one of the best, most thought-provoking and messages I’ve heard on the topic.
Perceptive observers of American society, then, have cautioned from the outset about the dangers of pursuing too much. Perceptive observers of happiness have also arrived at similar conclusions. As Tocqueville’s contemporary and friend, John Stuart Mill, realized, “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so. The only chance is to treat, not happiness, but some end external to it, as the purpose of life.” Mill, a man who devoted much of his energy to the pursuit of happiness in democratic societies, was speaking in this case of individual lives. But his insight applies equally well to societies as a whole. It is noteworthy that Mill’s tough-minded successor as a defender of liberty and democracy, George Orwell, essentially agreed. “Men can only be happy when they do not assume that the object of life is happiness,” he cautioned in 1944.
Orwell’s words are worth heeding today, as are those of that other great English dystopian writer of the twentieth century, Aldous Huxley. Indeed, whereas 1984 can now seem a somewhat dated, if no less masterful, reflection on the concerns of the Cold War, Huxley’s Brave New World remains very much on the horizon of our future. Its denizens live with unflinching “faith in happiness as the Sovereign Good,” consuming in abundance, indulging their desires without guilt or inhibition, distracting themselves with the virtual reality of films with simple plots and the cult of youth. Forgetting the past and all things unpleasant in an effort to minimize pain, they maximize pleasure with mood-enhancing drugs and genetic manipulation. Everybody in the Brave New World is “happy nowadays,” and yet the world is a nightmare. We are, I trust, still very far from that. But what a shame it would be to dream only of happiness and then wake up in a world in which we are miserable.
HT: Desiring God
Also, check out this essay for a response.