Re: Re: How can we balance being happy with so much suffering in the world?
I don't know about most of you, but the question of how to deal with suffering was answered for me in Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. And then it was answered again by, of all people, Friedrich Nietzsche.
This is the stuff I got from Nietzsche. My answer is that suffering is an essential part of being happy. Happiness was defined, philosophically, as the achievement of all of one's desires. Seems simple enough. Yet happiness is impossible to achieve, because of one little loophole in our psyche. Whenever we get all of our desires--we get the promotion, we rise to the top, we become king of the world--we get bored. I'm using "bored" in a very broad sense here--"boredom" is really the desire TO desire. Anyway, boredom is a type of"pain," in that we desire for it to end. And thetime during which we are in pain is called "suffering," so, whenever we are bored, we are suffering. But I thought we had achieved all of our desires! Confound it all! So we end up switching back and forth on Schopenhauer's pendulum. We either don't have what we want, or we have it but then want more. So happiness, as I defined it previously, doesn't work.
Nietzsche, then, thought to avoid happiness, as it was a huge waste of time, and basically explained that one should spend his life in what he called the "will to power." Humans should spend their lives, and would be the most happy at the end, if suffering to achieve "power." Now, power could be anything we like it to be, but it has to be something that is a) a challenge or pain through which we must suffer, b) a difficult challenge, and c) a worthwhile challenge. So, to give an example, we are the most happy when we are in a sports game, which is a challenge in which we can suffer through, and we are facing a difficult opponent, and it is the fourth quarter and we have just broken away from the defense and are streaking down the line, the goalie is in the wrong place, and the ball has just left our foot. We haven't achieved anything yet, but we may. It's the anticipation for something that makes it good. Once we achieve it, we want more--so it's best to always suffer in pursuit of a grand, worthwhile, difficult goal.
From a Darwinian perspective, this makes complete sense. If we were programmed to achieve and then be happy, we'd be content. Contentment leads to leisure, which leads to stagnation. Evolution would pass us by. But if we thrive the best when constantly achieving, pulling ahead, making progress, etc., we'd leave everybody else in the dust. It's because we can't sit still. Our inclination to suffer is probably what makes us the dominant species on the planet.
Now, I'm not arguing FOR suffering. I'm not saying we should increase suffering worldwide. I know if I was in the place of other people around the globe, I would be less happy and less satisfied. However, a funny statistic that keeps popping up is that, in any country, any place, any time, there is a steady 30% happiness rating among the population. That's the same in Kenya or in the American suburbs. I know there are outliers--I don't think 30% of the population of the campt at Auschwitz was happy--but in different situations of comparative suffering, the people are 30% happy. And that's because they stay optimistic, focus on a worthwhile, challenging goal, and will themselves to power.
But hey, say we ended suffering. This is where Bradbury comes in. If we go back to our original definition of happiness, the obvious answer is instant gratification. If I achieve my desires as fast as I can make them, then I can live a happy life! But Bradbury shows this is not the case. The people who live in a culture of instant gratification are unthinking automatons who are barely human. It is those who are challenged, who throw their ignorance around to have it hammered away, who sit and TALK about desires, anticipate them, what have you, instead of merely have their wishes granted immediately, who live a grand life. Proust said it as well--the woman who saves every day to buy a dress, looking over its color in the window and breathing it in, anticipating it for all that time, enjoys it much more than the Queen who wears a different dress every day.
So, suffering is integral to a happy life. That is how you balance the two. I hope I didn't get too long-winded.
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