I am H-A-P-P-Y!
I know I am, I'm sure I am,
These were the words of a dreadful ditty I was taught in Sunday School. I didn't think they were dreadful then. I remember enjoying singing it, perhaps because my childhood was generally happy. There were further verses which gave reasons to be happy, such as "because I know God loves me so". I realize now that at least one of the other children singing with me was unhappy most of the time. How insensitive and damaging to require children to claim to feel an emotion that not all could share. How much extra false guilt was piled up in young minds because of the message that you ought to be happy because...?
I blame the BBC for bringing this song back into my mind today. They publicised the launch of a charity which is using the 'latest research' to tell people how to be happier. BBC Breakfast has lauched a 3-part challenge complete with downloadable workbook. If you want to try the Happiness Challenge, here's the link. I don't see anything wrong with wanting to be happy or with taking action to increase the happiness of others as well as oneself. But I do think that the pursuit of happiness for its own sake can be a moral cul-de-sac. In my experience happiness just 'happens' as a bi-product of something else.
The philosopher Pascal Bruckner has written interestingly on this in his essay "Perpetual Euphoria: On the Duty to be Happy" published 10 years ago in French but just translated into English. He points out how the 'right' to the pursuit of happiness has become a 'duty' to be happy, a social pressure that in itself causes unhappiness. It also enlarges the market of mood-altering drugs, therapies, surgery to modify the body, new religions in which
"Jesus is no longer this transcendant God, but a life coach who helps you overcome addiction and so on."He suggest that we have
"a lot of power in our lives, but not the power to be happy."Happiness, he says, is
"more like a moment of grace."Perhaps that's what Jesus' 'Beatitiudes' are all about, moments of grace and true happiness that 'happen' to people when they are not expecting it.