Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Happiness

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.

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15 Responses to “Happiness”

  1. Innommable said

    In a scene in the movie Polyester, the great actress, Edith Massey, who plays Cuddles, the looney heiress, is joined by her friend Francine (Divine). Cuddles has taken Francine to the woods for a picnic and says to her, “Look Francine, Tab for our diets! Ain’t that great? Look… cups, and ooh, sandwhiches! Wow! Francine, happiness is a picnic in the woods!”

    Franice cries and moans.

    Cuddles continues, “God, look around you Francine, Look at the nature! Look Francine it’s beautiful!

    Just then, Francine is stung by a bee, and Cuddles cries, “Oh Francine, I’ve got ants in my pants!!!”

    Comedic genius!

  2. Rubicund said

    I haven’t seen Polyester in quite a while, yet I can distinctly hear, in my head, the words of La Massey.

    Happiness is indeed a picnic in the woods.

  3. Innommable said

    Click on my screen name in the comment above to HEAR the actual scene!

  4. Ergo said

    Hahaha! That’s so funny! Love the way she talks–crazy woman! 🙂

  5. Rubicund said

    I just got “This Filthy World” from Netflix. It’s kind of like a stand-up fireside chat with John Waters. I would highly suggest that y’all see it, though it may be a bit hard to find since it JUST came out.

    Yes, I’m that cool.

    Right.

  6. Matthew said

    Hi. I don’t endorse the following, but I think it’s an interesting challenge to the idea that life has positive value (despite our attachment to it):

    “That human life must be a kind of mistake is sufficiently clear from the fact that man is a compound of needs, which are difficult to satisfy; moreover, if they are satisfied, all he is granted is a state of painlessness, in which he can only give himself up to boredom. This is a precise proof that existence in itself has no value, since boredom is merely the feeling of the emptiness of life. If, for instance, life, the longing for which constitutes our very being, had in itself any positive and real value, boredom could not exist; mere existence in itself would supply us with everything, and therefore satisfy us.” Schopenhauer, “The Emptiness of Existence”

    (Honestly, I’m not trying to pick a fight. Just sharing fodder. My own view? Well, happiness could only be an “emotional reward” for achieving and pursuing a rational system of values if happiness itself is an emotion…but the term “happy” is itself, at least in some contexts, evaluative/normative. Happiness is probably more than a feeling…(or a reward – too end-state-ish for me: is happiness a destination???)

  7. Ergo said

    Matthew,

    That quote by Schopenhauer starts with the premise that man is an automaton, and that man is chiefly characterized by his needs that need to be fulfilled. This views man as nothing more than an animal or a plant (at best). The fact that man is a causal agent who rises beyond needs and is potent enough to achieve “wants” and desires and values and can fruitfully engage in productive and creative endeavors escapes Schipenhauer’s selective focus.

    As my post alludes, a view of man as potent and efficacious, and a view of this universe of reality as yeilding to the works of man is central not only to the philosophy of Objectivism but also to any legitimate and realizable concept of happiness.

  8. Runner said

    Hi all!

    Here is the alleged Schopenhauer quotation that is copied directly from Jason’s preceding post (which the terse quote in Atlas Shrugged that “Existence is not a negation of negatives” appears to directly contradict):

    “That human life must be a kind of mistake is sufficiently clear from the fact that man is a compound of needs, which are difficult to satisfy; moreover, if they are satisfied, all he is granted is a state of painlessness, in which he can only give himself up to boredom. This is a precise proof that existence in itself has no value, since boredom is merely the feeling of the emptiness of life. If, for instance, life, the longing for which constitutes our very being, had in itself any positive and real value, boredom could not exist; mere existence in itself would supply us with everything, and therefore satisfy us.” Schopenhauer, “The Emptiness of Existence”

    Now, the following is my attempt to edit that quotation; I am attempting to edit it according to the fact that one’s satisfaction of one’s own life’s needs ultimately causes joy, not “painlessness”.

    “That human life must be [held as] a kind of [value] is sufficiently clear from the fact that man is a compound of needs, which are difficult to satisfy; moreover, if they are satisfied, all he is granted is a state of [happiness], in which he can only give himself up to [joy]. This is a precise proof that existence in itself has. . .value, since [joy] is merely the feeling of the [achievement] of life. If, for instance, life, the longing for which constitutes our very being, had in itself any positive and real value, boredom could not exist; mere [virtue] in itself would supply us with everything, and therefore satisfy us.”

    Doesn’t my edit of the quotation sound much more pleasant?

    This was just a personal semantic exercize that, like my last post on this blog, has managed to keep me up all night. Ugh!

    Yes Jason, indeed the quotation as you have presented it IS an “interesting challenge to the idea that life has positive value. . . .” However, it fails to be convincing.

    Sincerely,

    Runner

  9. Runner said

    Pardon me Matthew, I am sorry I got your name wrong.

    -Runner

  10. Matthew said

    I’m not sure that the satisfaction of desires itself, or of particular desires, leads to JOY. (Maybe, you might say, it should.) I take it that Schopenhauer’s view is that a desire is a privation – we desire something we lack, and we experience this lack as unpleasant. But the satisfaction of a desire only brings us back to a zero-sum point. Since we are active beings – let’s not forget that the world is a striving of WILL for Schopenhauer, and that we are imbued with will – we cannot be happy (on his view) simply by satisfying desires, because we will necessarily either find that there is yet another desire to be fulfilled, or we will be bored (lacking desire).

    One thought you might have is that Schopenhauer is posing a false dilemma: either we continue to pursue desires (which can only provide temporary satisfaction and distration from the vicious circularity and futility of everything we do) or we stop desiring and plunge into boredom. The Stoics, and even Epicurus to an extent, would object to the idea that freeing ourselves from desires leads to boredom. For Schopenhauer, the possibility of giving up desiring is actually a non-starter: boredom is just an indeterminate desire – we don’t know what we want, and we don’t want anything in particular, except NOT TO BE BORED! (I think that for him the idea is that the total abandonment of desire could only come about by getting rid of one’s will, i.e. by dying. I don’t think it matters whether we characterize these states as wants or desires, and so I’m not sure if Ergo’s claim above affects Schopenhauer’s view…)

    Clearly, what Schopenhauer lacked is a sense of human subjectivity: that the way in which we strive to satisfy our desires (values, etc.) can significantly differ: we can engage in this activity as “animals,” unthinking, uncritically, or we can claim this “futile” existence as our own, and critically engage in making determinations about how we want (or ought) to live. I take it that that’s Ergo’s point, and this marking the distinction between different ways of engaging with our (objectively) “futile” lives – in order to give them meaning – is the project that was undertaken by Nietzsche (who read Schopenhauer) and further pursued by the later existentialists.

  11. Paro said

    Seriously guys!

    Why debate to believe that man can’t or can have desires to be or not to be happy. Simply if a man desires to be progressive it will be wether to an extent or simply not at all. If man can’t be happy..after trying to accomplish a desire then man needs to understand that desire doesn’t mean accomplishment but satisfaction to effort and complition. Renegate and you’ll find boredom….!

  12. Ergo said

    Hahahaa! Paro (and exactly why do you keep changing your name??), your comment makes no sense at all. But I love it! 😀 You should come by more often.

  13. Ergo said

    Runner, I love your edit of the quote. It is more than just pleasing. It is true.

    While the fact of desire indeed implies lack or privation, it does not therefore imply boredom, defeat, impotence, or anything as such. That would be a blatant non sequiter. And neither does privation imply a permanent lack of joy, contentment, or happiness.

    Ayn Rand stressed on accepting the things that cannot be changed (the metaphysically given) and the things open to our acts. However, actions need to be learned and must be in accordance with reality in order to result in the desired effects (i.e., nature must be obeyed before it can be commanded).

    Further, my post is very clear on the fact that happiness (or joy) is not simply the achievement of values (of fulfillment of desires). One has to learn to identify desires that are achievable in reality, i.e., in accordance with what is permissible in reality. One cannot achieve happiness if the value to be attained is purported to exist in some supernatural world, or if the value requires supernatural means (like the skeptics require omniscience for any claims of certainty).

    Rand offers her entire philosophy for the sole purpose of achieving happiness in this world. In other words, she offers a philosophy that reminds man that he is equipped to recognize reality and differentiate between what is a given and what is open to his actions, that correctly invalidates the existence of supernatural worlds, that properly argues that there are no supernatural means of attaining values, that offers a rational and objective standard of morals and values, that reveals the true nature of reality as benevolent and of man as efficacious.

    All of her philosophy, properly integrated, leads one to attain a steady state of happiness (what Ted Keer terms “passionate serenity”) which goes beyond the momentary achievement of discrete materials or values.

    In this sense, we transcend Schopenhauer’s misguided notion that achieving desires brings temporary happiness and that our steady state of being is either one of boredom or of unending strife.

    Our actions are not attempts at making our “futile” lives more engaging. Such a statement implies that life qua life has an intrinsic nature, i.e., that life is futile and the act of living is an attempt to deny its futile nature.

    Each individual decides the nature–and theme–of his life.

  14. Paro said

    Ergo… can we use simple english here…??? Why won’t anyone understand what I am saying…!! He.heee…

  15. Runner said

    Dear Ergo,

    The following is not meant in the spirit of stuffy belaboring about the merits of your expressed love. Rather, it is meant as a reasoned tribute to why your love is factually warranted.

    I appreciate your love of my edit of that quote, because I know you properly identified its “truth” given the context of this thread’s discussion.

    If a man poses that a statement is true, as you have posed about that edit, a follow-up question that an actively rational mind should ask is, WHY did you find the edit to be true?

    Upon reading your thoughts and clarifications that the satisfaction of a human life’s needs acquires meaning only within a “natural” and “this-worldly” context, which is of course only a summary of your foregoing points, I understand why you take the edit to be true.

    More personally, I *greatly* appreciate your love of my edit of that quote according to your conception of it as “pleasing”; I confidently venture to claim this: you were pleased by the edit, BECAUSE the edit was true; and you were pleased by the edit because of the satirical FORM in which the truth was presented. (I mean to say that, ultimately, if the edit were not true, you would not be “pleased” by it, no matter the fanciness of its form.)

    Given the above, I suppose that being “pleased” by a truth is of greater value than merely “loving” a truth–if the pleasing form in which the truth is presented is done properly and morally.

    So, Ergo, your love of the edit is caused as much as the context that Schopenhauer provided and indeed stated, as my own semantic exercize in satirically “correcting” Schopenhauer–that is, if I may trust Matthew, of whom I have no reason to distrust his accuracy when he presented the quote and its author.

    Respectfully,

    Runner

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