“We don’t really want what we think we want,” says philosopher Slavoj Žižek. It’s a strange, almost exotic thought at a time when many of us are inundated daily with the prospect of infinite choice.
You can no longer buy a product, it seems, without expressing your opinion. (Do you want whiter teeth or a toothpaste that acknowledges the sensitivity of your gums? Dish soap that smites bacteria, or one that’s free of environmental toxins?) For better or worse, customization has infiltrated our daily lives to an unprecedented degree and the message is clear: Live your best life. Find happiness here and now.
But what if happiness isn’t actually all that fulfilling? Watch the video:
In this second video from our interview with Žižek, the author of Big Think’s most recent Book of the Month argues that happiness is a conformist category. And moreover, none of us really want it. Which is a good thing, since the pursuit of happiness is an Enlightenment value that gets at only one aspect of what it means to live a good life.
“Let’s be serious: when you are in a creative endeavor, in that wonderful fever–‘My God, I’m onto something!’ and so on–happiness doesn’t enter it,” he says. “You are ready to suffer. Sometimes scientists, I read in a history of quantum physics… were even ready to take into account the possibility that they [would] die because of radiation. Happiness is, for me, an unethical category.” It’s also boring.
You can be happy without being moral. You can be happy without being interesting or engaged in the world around you. You can be happy without having a single creative idea or interest or passion. You can get everything you desire, and still not be happy. So why even focus on finding bliss?