The Suppression of Happiness

happinessOne of the great errors of freedom people (myself included) is that we’ve sometimes based our arguments on less-than-optimal grounds.

What I mean is that we argued for freedom on political or legal grounds. And while those arguments were generally accurate and valid, it was a relatively poor line of argument.

Our arguments on economic grounds were somewhat better, but they still missed the largest and clearest areas of human experience.

A stronger strain of argument, in my opinion, involves happiness.

Defining Happiness

Happiness, of course, is a subjective thing. A new car might make one person very happy but be a burden to another (or to that same person at a different stage of life).

Furthermore, happiness is very often temporary. People think they’ll be happy if they win the lottery, but that rush of happiness lasts only a short time, then fades away. Lottery winners are happier than other people for a few weeks, then they return to normal – or worse. The same goes for similar cases.

Long-term happiness is what we would be wisest to pursue. But this type of happiness – which we generally think of as satisfaction – requires things of us. In particular, it requires good choices, the courage to make them, and good information to base them upon.

The best definition of the long-term happiness I know is a paraphrase of Aristotle. It goes like this:

What makes us happy is the exercise of vital powers along lines of excellence in a life affording us scope.

Let’s break that down. Three things are required for us to be happy for the long haul, all of which must be present together:

  1. Vital powers.
  2. Exercise along lines of excellence.
  3. A life offering us scope.

What We Have, What Is Taken From Us

Of the three items listed above, two are innate to us:

We are born with vital powers. Unless we’ve been seriously damaged, these are already ours. We may develop them or allow them to atrophy, but they are inside of us and not directly assailable by anyone else.

Exercise along lines of excellence is something that we can do and should do. This depends upon us and our choices. We control this ourselves.

A life offering them scope is where the problem lies. Our lives have been massively restricted, and that directly restricts our happiness. That’s such an important thought that I’d like to restate it:

Restrictions of human action are direct restrictions of human happiness.

And please forget knee-jerk reactions like, “We have to restrict criminals!” That’s a non-issue, and, more importantly, it’s a brain hack.

Go ahead and restrict your criminals, but don’t restrict me with them.

There is no sane reason restraints upon criminals have to be applied to everyone else at the same time.

 No one has any moral right to restrain you, unless and until you harm others.

Other Restraints

There are plenty of natural obstacles in our world that limit a man or woman’s scope. We require food, shelter, sleep, clothing, mates, and so on. And that’s precisely why we must be unrestrained in all other ways. We need to employ our talents to overcome these problems… then, hopefully, to expand our horizons.

The more restrained we remain, the more impoverished and unhappy we remain.

To restrict peaceful humans is to directly restrain their happiness. It also directly restrains their talent, and that impoverishes the future, including billions of humans yet unborn. It is among the worst crimes imaginable, yet it is presented to us as an essential.

Our happiness is being stolen from us daily, and the justifications for this crime – if ever we examine them – are quickly seen as mere fear and inertia.

It’s time that we started playing a different game.

Paul Rosenberg

6 thoughts on “The Suppression of Happiness”

  1. ~~ I can p’r’aps glimpse what you’re trying to say, but it’s “thru a glass, darkly”, so to speak.

    You seem to be more willing to run your life on nebulous feelings/emotions, than on reality. That is not how I want to face each day. Nebulous because altho the Reality behind our feelings mite remain constant, our emotional responses to the SCR’s influencing our fleshly houses is in continual flux.

    An SCR (Situation, Circumstance, Relationship) with which I am presently dissatisfied mite turn into a REAL world of do-do, so the time just vacated, when I FELT I was so UNhappy, was a time when I should’ve been content, cuz NOW look at my hopeless plight — Woe is ME !

    Had I advantaged myself to use the event as a learning-teaching opp.ty in which I mite build character and courage, and gain knowledge, understanding, and wisdom to support and conciliate others, I mite have been happy.

    Altho I fail miserably in my struggles I shall continue to look to the Apostle Paul:
    “…for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content…”
    Philippians 4:11

    As always — FWIW & IMHO, of course….

    1. Feelings/emotions are “nebulous” only if you believe they just “happen” and you have no control over them. Someone says something nasty to you…or you perceive it that way…and you get angry, that was a choice you made, probably unconsciously. You then disavow that choice by saying, “Well, he really pissed me off”, laying the blame on the other person. NO ONE can make one angry unless one chooses that response to the situation. If one becomes mindful, one can easily just let things bounce off and respond completely differently. That’s how Gandhi changed the world. So did M. L. King.

  2. Dear Mr. Freeman:

    An interesting and thoughtful dissertation. However, I truly believe you miss the mark, as have many sages throughout time.

    Happiness – true happiness – comes from within each of us. It cannot be imposed from without, but must be a choice of the individual. The person who is “down and out” might also be glorying in the fact that s/he is alive, that s/he can make choices to change the condition, while continuing to enjoy being alive.

    While I could drone on discussing this important subject, I think one of the most poignant writing I’ve ever seen on the subject was a statement made by a well known concentration camp/Holocaust survivor, Vicktor Frankl, who said:

    “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked
    through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.
    They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that
    everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human
    freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to
    choose one’s own way.”

    1. Joy (not be confused with pleasure) is a state of soul coming from loving some condition and consciously observing reality as being that way. If I love my wife, which I do very much, I experience joy when she prospers and sorrow when she doesn’t and it is through freedom that I can endeavor to experience more of the former. It would take a very twisted personality to experience much joy in a concentration camp. Given the human propensity to slaughter one another, it is best to work hard to keep us all free and strong. Tiogether we must stop would-be tyrants from demonstrating true evil human nature and teach each other God given goodness. Then we can be free. Tyrants want minions, but no man is more free than a strong one surrounded by a multitude of strong loving friends who also value that goodness and freedom. Joy does not come from within. It comes from without, especially from Divinity to be shared with others.

    2. and if you are waiting to find your happiness in a concentration camp, there are plenty in power today who would be happy to oblige you

  3. You have said it well. Both freedom and the happiness that accompanies it are within our reach, and not naturally denied any man. But they are reached or not as we are willing to take on the responsibilities that also accompany them.

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