I’m doing a subject at Uni called “The Philosophy of Happiness”.
I’ve read page after page from a Hedonist perspective, arguing happiness is having lots of pleasure and not much pain. Those readings were tightly reasoned, and hard to poke a hole in, but I felt like there was something missing.
And now I’m reading one by a guy called Robert Nozick. As far as I can tell, he’s not religious. His paper is not as tightly reasoned, but oh, what a breath of fresh air! It rings true. He points out that happiness is not the only thing we care about in life (we also care about the ‘shape’ or ‘story’ of our life, we also care about what we are like as people, we care that we’re actually connected to reality, and we care that we are sharing actual reality with actual people)
But listen to this.
“Recall those particular moments when you thought and felt, blissfully, that there was nothing else you wanted, your life was good then.. What marks these times is their completeness. There is something you have that you want, and no other wants come crowding in; there is nothing else that you think of wanting right then. I do not mean that if someone came up to you right then with a magic lamp, you would be at a loss to come up with a wish. But in the moments I am describing, these other desires-for more money or another job or another chocolate bar-simply are not operating. They are not felt, they are not lurking at the margins to enter. There is no additional thing you want right then, nothing feels lacking, your satisfaction is complete. The feeling that accompanies this is intense joy.
These moments are wonderful, and they are rare. Usually, additional wants are all too ready to introduce themselves. Some have suggested we reach this desirable state of not wanting anything else by the drastic route of eliminating all wants. But we don’t find it helpful to be told to first get rid of our existing wants as a way of reaching the state of not wanting anything else. (And this is not simply because we doubt that this route leads to an accompanying joy.) Rather, what we want is to be told of something so good, whose nature is so complete and satisfying, that reaching it will exclude any further wants from crowding in, and we want to be told how to reach this.”
Nozick is right: we do long for something, or Someone, totally soul-satisfying.