Can we decide to be happy? | philosophy of the magazine

Happiness has a history. It has long been considered random because it relies on good fortune (what its etymological meaning means: “happiness”), it became law in the revolutions of 18at century (to the point of being enshrined in the U.S. Constitution) and ultimately almost a duty, as some self -help enthusiasts will convince us. But can we imagine that being happy can only now be a matter of personal decision? Aristotle, Descartes at Alain show us that in between decide to be happy and be reallythe path to take is longer than you think …

For Aristotle, you can decide to be happy – but you have to be lucky, and above all very patient. In a sense, the desire not to be happy (or refusal to be happy) is impossible. According to him, nature has made a happy life the purpose of all human existence – this is what classical philosophy calls theeudaemonismo. More precisely, as Aristotle showed her Ethics of Nicomaque, Happiness is unique to man, because it can only be achieved by a rational and sociable creature, and that is why it cannot be attributed. “not on a cow or on a horse”. However, being happy does not depend solely on reason or our good will. External factors come into play: according to Aristotle, if one is unsightly or difficult, it is more difficult to access. But most of all, happiness can only be achieved at the end of a full life, when all our abilities have been developed. This suggests thata child cannot know happiness in spite of his visible joy. To understand this paradox, Aristotle uses an image that would be a saying: “Swallow makes no spring, nor a day of sunshine”. Without slow maturation, happiness will be confused with a transient pleasure: “It is not a day or a short interval of time that brings happiness and happiness.» But once achieved, happiness is not easily lost because the experienced person is no longer covered “in the reversals of fate” : “The creature that possesses happiness […] is not a chameleon or a weather vane. » Following a concept of happiness that is both elitist and voluntary, Aristotle reserved it for the intelligent man with “succeeded in life”. Between deciding to be happy and being able to say who you are, you need to have lived a lot and meditated.

Another way to claim to be happy is to know your limits and make careful choices. Descartes brings a painful diagnosis, but one that we always experience: one of the main sources of our grief is unfulfilled desires, unattainable desires (e.g., the fact of wanting to marry Brad Pitt or go to Pluto ). However, in real life, some barriers cannot be solved. Resist the real. So his advice, given to Discourse on Procedure (1637): “Always try to change my desires rather than the order of the world. » With this formula, one might believe that Descartes renounced all happiness, thus bowing to the world around him rather than a supposed element of his happiness. But the philosopher, himself a bon vivant, is not a fatalist. Descartes encourages us to do this better control ourselves, so as not to go from failure to failure, meaning that we are more aware of our own limitations. And for that, we have a magic instrument: consent. But what is the use of your free will to claim that you are sincerely happy? To her Metaphysical meditation (1641), Descartes found that “the will is more whole and broader than understanding”often, “I extend it to things I don’t hear”. Deciding unknowingly is the best way to make mistakes, and therefore make ourselves unhappy by suffering the unpleasant effects of our bad choices. To be happy, you need to to balance our power and our knowledge, because only then can we experience the power of our freedom without abusing it.

Finally, deciding to be happy is possible if we take our destiny into our own hands. and if we change our view of what affects us: heir of Descartes, the philosopher Alain seems beyond our ability to decide to be happy: “There is more will than we believe in happiness”he wrote to her talk about happiness (1925). But, perhaps more inspired by Spinozahe asserts that it is by action more than thought, from which the decision comes, that a person will experience eternal joy: “It is impossible for one to be happy if one does not want to; one must therefore desire his happiness and do so. » This is it “Everyone who lets himself be sad”. Also, when a person is pleased with misfortune, do good deeds to regain taste for life: “The first remedy for evil of thought is to cut wood”we read the latter About. But can’t we also isolate ourselves from action, at the risk of being haunted by tragedies that we pretend to ignore, bowing our heads to our work? Alain knows this, and this is why he specifies that acting only allows us to reconnect with happiness when we are worried about relative illnesses, not too severe. If being happy is an art, it can do nothing “when misfortune comes to your head”. Therefore, Alain does not say that we can remain indifferent to the tragedies of existence (“I left that to the Stoics”). But he argues that we can teach “The art of being happy when events are passing and all the bitterness of life is reduced to small annoyances and small discomforts”. Deciding to be happy every day is possible and even desirable, especially being sociable. Because one person annoys another by telling of his misfortunes: “It should be considered disrespectful to describe the headache to others”. Still need to learn not to perform superman by pretending to have succeeded in everything or never been affected by what is offensive to other men. Because, in a society that only wants “winners”, we would be ashamed to have blue. If happiness is an art of labor, it is also a way of life, which does not place us above ordinary mortals.

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