Blog Entry 6: What is Wrong with Happiness

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Hi all:

This article is by Zygmunt Bauman.  I have never had any heroes (except maybe for Micky Mantle and Bob Dylan).  But now Bauman is my hero, not so much for what he has to say about consumer society, but because he is still saying lively, interesting stuff at 85 years of age.  I can only hope my brain works as well as his at 85.

He is a pretty astute observer of consumer society.  Formerly an academic sociologist, he is widely read in sociology and other stuff.  In this article he brings up Nietzsche.  Not the usual sociological stuff.

You have to take time with his writing.  It's not fast food; you can't just swallow it down on the go.  You have to sit down and chew a little.

Again, as with previous posts to the blog, pick an interesting quotation, type it in, and write a few lines about why you picked it.  Or try to paraphrase his line of thinking.  You can of course include a quotation in this too.

I think this is a pretty interesting article.  We all want to be happy, I guess, and Bauman talks about the difficulties of finding happiness in a consumer society.

Nick

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94 Comments

“The pursuit of happiness will never end – its end would be equal to the end of happiness as such. The secure state of happiness not being attainable, it is only the chase of that stubbornly elusive target that can keep the runners (however moderately) happy.”
The way I interpreted this quote from Bauman was that people are always trying to look for something that will make them completely happy. People set goals for themselves because completing those goals will make them happy. For example I want to go to college, so I can get a good job that pays well, and be happy. But even if I were to reach all of these goals chances are I would not be satisfied. Consumer society tells us that we always need something new to be happy. We keep trying to take a shot at a moving target that we will never hit.

"despite the massive, spectacular rise of American incomes in the postwar years, the self-reported happiness of American has declined."

I chose this quote because i believe its very true and important. We might think that with all that money, people nowadays are happier but it isn't necessarily like that. It says how the economy is apparently so good yet the happiness of the people is going down instead of improving as you'd think it would be happening.

"The practice of such skills has been brought within the reach of an ordinary, run-of-the-mill consumer expedient of simulacrum - a phenomenon (in the memorable description of Jean Baudrillard) similar to psychosomatic ailments, known to cancel the distinction between 'things as they are' and 'things as they pretend to be' between 'reality' and 'illusion,' or between the 'true state' of affairs and its 'simulation' (43).

I am fascinated by the fact that the consumer society is based off of the psychological manipulation of our deepest desires and needs, fears, and aspirations. When we "choose" to buy a product, we are not merely just purchasing a product, but a momentary identity that compensates for our emotional needs. The practice of such "simulacrum," the blurring of the lines between what is real and what is an illusion, makes me rethink what is really genuine in me.

"Observers suggest that about half the goods crucial for human happiness have no market price and can't be purchased in shops. Whatever your cash and credit standing, you won't find in a shopping mall love and friendship, the pleasures of domesticity, the satisfaction that comes from caring for loved ones or helping a neighbor in distress, the self-esteem to be drawn from work well done, gratifying the 'workmanship instinct' common to us all, the appreciation, sympathy and respect of workmates and other people with whom one associates; you won't find there freedom from the threats of disregard, contempt, snubs and humiliation."
I chose this quote because I believe its true. I believe that human happiness cannot be bought. Humans can't find happiness sitting on a shelf in a store. I believe happiness comes naturally and unexpectedly.

“Once a “whole life” project, identity has now turned into an attribute of moment. Once designed, it is no longer “built to last forever”, but needs to be continuously assembled and disassembled.”

The consumer society has brought a whole new meaning to “identity.” In the past, it meant the unique individuality we developed throughout our lives, but now, our identities are simply classified by the items we possessed. Furthermore, our identities no longer remain consistent throughout our lives. Nowadays, as the value of different material goods change, so does our identities.

“The pursuit of happiness will never end..."
This quote is important to me for the reason being that I love living life to the fullest and find new exciting adventures to explore. I dont think the pursuit of happiness will ever end if you keep trying to pursue it and although there are obstacles on the way the feeling you get out of it in the end is much more greater than the struggles you had to face.

"The secure state of happiness not being attainable, it is only the chase of that stubbornly elusive target that can keep the runners(however moderately) happy. On that track leading to happiness, there is no finishing line...as long as one stays in the race, neither falling from exhaustion nor being shown a red card, the hope of eventual victory is kept alive"(p. 9)

Bauman seems to be getting to a very deep point in his argument about the pursuit of happiness. What I took from this quote is that as we strive for happiness by consuming and consuming, ultimately, we most likely will never reach full happiness. No matter how much we try and consume, there is no end to it but the act of trying to reach the pursuit of happiness is enough to keep people going. As long as people stay on track with everyone else and continue to strive for this happiness, people continue to have "hope" that in the end they will in fact succeed in finding happiness.

"The less possible it is to offer to others goods of the latter kind, goods 'that money can't buy', or the less willingness there is to cooperate with others in their production, the deeper are the feelings of guilt and the unhappiness that result" (41).
This quote sounds a bit complicated, but what I think it is saying is that if we don't offer actions of happiness, then we will not get happiness in return. When the author says,"goods 'that money can't buy'", he means emotions like showing care and love to others. If we can't express those happy emotions, then inside of us, we will feel unhappy. If we are willing to "cooperate with others in their production", for example help a classmate when they ask for help on the homework, then this action makes us feel happy because we feel proud of what we just did. Overall, we need to be happy and willing to offer our happiness and willingness to others, to feel happy about ourselves.

"... societies like ours, moved by millions of men and women pursuing happiness, are getting richer, but it is far from clear whether they are getting happier" (37).
I picked this quote because although it was for the first page I thought it was a key quote because it set the mood for the rest of the selection. This quote was also important to me because it mentions something that most of us have grown up hearing. Bauman in a sense repeats the phrase, "money is not happiness". Which in my opinion is true. American people work so hard for the money (whether a large or small amount of it)but never get to really enjoy their family moments. They are so busy making the money that there is hardly enough time to value the things in life that matter. What good does it make to be the most richest man or woman in the world, if you never got the chance to share that special moment with your loved one? My psych teacher told us that he's been to many death beds and he has never heard anybody brqag about the money they have, instead they talk about an unforgettable moment they had with their children or wife.

“The pursuit of happiness will never end – its end would be equal to the end of happiness as such. The secure state of happiness not being attainable, it is only the chase of that stubbornly elusive target that can keep the runners (however moderately) happy.”
I chose this quote because I find truth in it. Everyone at some point in their life has been in the pursuit of happiness. As humans we always try to attain happiness; however Bauman states that happiness cannot be attained in a chase. If we chase after happiness we may actually fail to notice that happiness is already present. We are blinded by the chase, and tend to think that we are not happy. For example, some of us may fail to realize that happiness may exist in family because we only focus on the troubles and problems that family brings. We need to accept that with every bad there also exists a good.

"According to virtually all the research reports scrutinized and summed up by Rustin, "improvements in living standards in nations such as the United States and Britain are associated with no improvement - indeed a slight decline - in subjective well-being."

I like this quotes because it reminds me of my experience of moving from Chile to the USA. Back in Chile, we weren't even close to having all the things we have here now. No cell phone, no laptops, no microwave, no car, no cable or internet, etc. For some reason however, I didn't feel the need for any of those things, but if I was to have one of those things it probably would have provoked some kind of happiness in me. Now that we have all those things, I don't feel any special feelings. Even more, I felt more happiness being back there without those things than being here and having much more. My mom even went through some of the deepest depressions in her life during the first two years here. And its because, how it is stated in the quote, improvements in the standard of living is not associated with the improvement in subjective well-being. The improvements in the standard of living gives you more of a safety feeling, which can be obtained through buy-able goods. Happiness is given through priceless things, such as family and friends relationships, love, etc.

“The pursuit of happiness will never end – its end would be equal to the end of happiness as such." Pg. 9
I chose this quote because it really stood out to me. This is something I truly believe in and think of very often. In life we are always searching for complete happiness but nobody ever really achieves it. There is always something that will set you back but there is also something that you strive for to become even more happy.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Nick Tingle published on March 24, 2011 12:11 PM.

Blog Entry 5: "Why the Self is Empty" was the previous entry in this blog.

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