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The weight of happiness

SolitudeIs it somehow true that an answer exists for nearly any question? If the answer is yes, so what if more questions allow the same answer? I am rather sure that many people – including me – would address questions like «Are you looking for something?», «What is that you missed a long time ago?», «What did you never reach up to now?», with one specific word: happiness. Nonetheless, I am also pretty sure that many people – including me – would feel uncomfortable and ashamed of answering those questions with the word happiness.

«Why people would ever be discomforted by happiness?». Well, I have multiple answers to this question, and hereafter the circle closes. In summary, the answer to many questions generated a supplementary query that allows, in turn, multiple replies. Joking apart, I think that the distress in answering to the questions above can be mainly related to the fear of being either happy or unhappy. It appears that we are dealing with a question admitting two contradictory answers.

I think that the level of confusion I generated in the reader about the theme of this article – happiness – can be marked without reserve as chaos. Fortunately, Dr. Paolo Crepet can give me – and the reader – a helping hand. Paolo Crepet is a psychiatrist and sociologist rather well known in Italy, who has been writing plenty of essays, articles and novels, dealing with a wide variety of themes related to human psychology in modern society.

Among his publications, Paolo Crepet wrote a chapter of an essay entitled Perché siamo infelici (literally: Why we are unhappy), published by Einaudi in 2010. In about 30 pages the author manages to spread a multitude of compelling concepts related to unhappiness in modern society. Between them, the one I consider more effective is what Crepet defines as a paradox generated by modernity: the fact of being trained to happiness.

According to the point of view of the author, in the past, people used to live in less comfortable conditions compared to modern time. Consequently, they were feeding the mood of happiness with the perspective of reaching better living conditions in the future. Contrarily, nowadays we share – despite unevenly – a generally better status which brings us seeking for an immediate happiness. In other words, if yesterday we were able to look at the future, today we are mainly focused on present time.

The paradox highlighted by Crepet resides in the fact that happiness is associated with the perspective of reaching something. Similarly, discouragement and unhappiness emerge when the desired objective is too burdensome to reach. So, happiness is merged with the concept of future, and is related to something that did not take place completely, yet. Therefore, it seems that the most striking way to get far away from happiness is trying to reach it right here and right now, i.e. what we are used to do in this present.

By means of the clues scattered by Crepet, I attempt now to provide my explanation of the diffused unhappiness that seems to be directly proportional to the improvement of living conditions. As first step, happiness can be defined either as a mood or a state of mind that a human being feels when everything seems to be in the right place. A person can feel happy when achieving an important objective, as well as when being positively surprised by something or someone. Thereafter, happiness is by definition a circumstance that cannot last for a long time, being it a sort of state of grace.

In practice, happiness cannot intrinsically drive or condition the existence of a human being. Differently, what really has effects on our life is looking for happiness, since it keeps us always working to improve our condition and the one of people we care about. Given this explanation, three critical questions can be addressed as follows.

«Why we are afraid of confessing our happiness?». The explanation must be sought in the intrinsic nature of humans. After all, we are well aware that happiness does not last for a long time. Thus, being happy is equal to admitting that something just reached its conclusion and that soon such a mood will vanish.

«Why we are afraid of confessing our unhappiness?». The reason is that, in modern society, being unhappy is considered like missing the target. And failing is not an option. The just mentioned paradox of modernity originates from the combination of being oriented to success, and educated to happiness. The side effect is that unhappiness is treated as a disease rather than like something that belongs to us as much as happiness.

Unhappiness«Why we are afraid of confessing that our unhappiness seems to increase as time passes?». The motivation is that by building up our obsessive search for happiness in pursuing social objectives, in buying more expensive and luxury items, and so on, we are in fact developing an increasing impermeability to happiness. This fundamental mood, indeed, is not injected or incorporated in any object we can buy or possess, because its spark exists within us. As mentioned before, the sole long lasting happiness lies in desiring something and in building a path to get closer to it, day after day.

In conclusion, if happiness is fed by the perspective of reaching it, the passport for being happy is issued by the fact of being (at least a bit) unhappy. In the past, unhappiness was given by the constraints of living conditions, while today it originates by the compulsoriness of being happy at any time. Therefore, both in the past as in the present, we managed to build the trail leading to happiness. The main difference is that while yesterday everything was simple and straight, today we have to get unhappy of grabbing happiness eagerly, in order to ride the perspective of being happy and to put trust into the future.

After all, my grandmother used to say that in present time everything was more complicated than before, and she used to be right, as well.

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