Posted by Jerry on December 13, 2006
Happiness, in Ayn Rand’s words, is the emotional reward for the achievement of one’s values. Depending on one’s perspective and how well one has integrated the various principles of the philosophy, this definition of happiness can be either very expansive or very narrow.
It can be narrow in the sense that the implication is one is happy only when certain values are achieved; it can be described as a staccato emotional experience that peaks at certain points in one’s life and then drops. For example, I experience happiness when I secure a good job.
However, an added implication is that happiness is not possible to the irrational or the hedonist. Which in turn implies that values need to be rational values, i.e., in accordance with one’s life as the standard of judgement, in order to lead to the emotional reward of happiness.
To me, the definition of happiness that Ayn Rand offers is very expansive. When I consider the notion that happiness is the reward for achieving rational values, I think of the warm and serene feeling I get in knowing that I can pursue my values with no unearned guilt; I think of the confident serenity with which I know that my conceptual and rational faculties are competent tools for my survival and flourishment on this Earth. My emotional reward of happiness comes in the form of the feeling I get when I know that regardless of how much evil I see in this world, regardless of how unpleasant my current conditions might be, I know that I am an efficacious being; I know that man is an efficacious and causal agent. I know that the metaphysical nature of existence is one that is benevolent–that nature opens itself up to the actions of men and that nature can be known, studied, commanded, and channeled according to the directions set by man’s mind. I know that evil and suffering are aberrations, not the norm and that they can be significantly minimized or eliminated entirely.
My emotional feeling of happiness–while it may have its moments of peaks and lows–maintains a steady state throughout because every living moment for me is an achievement of my greatest value: life itself. I have come to realize that life is not an automatic, intrinsic value. Therefore, I am happy to have the knowledge that permits me to fully and profoudly appreciate the fact of my existence (which is precisely what makes it a value), the fact of the existence of this world and my life in it, the fact of my abilities to live competently in this world, and the fact of my freedom to enjoy living this life for my own sake and my own purpose in this world!
In We The Living, Kira Argounova lives all her life under the oppressive regime of the Soviets. She finds her egoistic spirit being choked and stomped upon; she later loses the love of the only man she worships in her whole world. At the climax of the novel, Kira is left bleeding to death alone in the middle of a cold Siberian desert. And yet, despite all of that, as she watches her blood seep and blot the white snow, the novel ends with Kira smiling in triumph for she knows what life and living properly should be.
The proper human spirit–as man is both and equally body and spirit–will not be defeated or doomed to agony by even the worst of chance events by nature or the evil of other people because such a spirit is committed not to suffering but to the fight against suffering, and all the while, knowing that he is efficacious, the world is relents to his mind, and that happiness–not suffering–is the emotional state proper to a human being.
Ayn Rand offers a definition of happiness. One can either interpret it as the most narrow and naive definition of an emotion–as one that peaks and drops depending on whether one achieves or loses one’s values. Or one can understand the profundity of its true meaning by realizing that Ayn Rand had in fact offered the entirety of her philosophy of Objectivim itself as the definition of happiness.