An Argument Against Happiness

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Smiley faces on glass (Chris UK/flickr)

Instead of just measuring economic health, should we be measuring our levels of happiness? That’s a question the United Nations is taking up this week in a session called "Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm." But how worthwhile is the "pursuit of happiness" in the first place? Wake Forest English professor Eric G. Wilson is the author of "Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy." He argues that Americans' fixation on happiness comes at a cost.

What do you think? Is pursuing happiness always the best policy? Tell us about a time when doing what made you happy actually made things worse.


Eric G. Wilson

Produced by:

Mythili Rao

Comments [4]

Stephen B from Colorado

Cf. John Milton, "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso"

But hail thou Goddess, sage and holy,
Hail divinest Melancholy
Whose Saintly visage is too bright
To hit the Sense of human sight;

-- John Milton "Il Penseroso" 1645

Apr. 03 2012 11:33 AM
Betsy from New York

Great stuff. I know many people that do not embrace the reality of melancholy. It is called denial. People like this are frequently found with substance abuse problems to cover up the pain. That is no excuse, however, to wallow in the melancholy, as Celeste so asutely observed in her interview. This is the Christian season of Holy Week. The Jewish Passover begins Friday. These seasons have centuries old problems, melancholy and the joy of having obstacles overcome despite our human efforts.

Apr. 03 2012 08:49 AM
Rick Evans from 02368

What better way to get attention for your book than to offer anti-apple pie and anti-motherhood message in the form of being anti- happiness. Well okay that's a bit over the top.

However, there are more than enough forces pursuing people with reasons to be melancholy these days: job loss, 401K losses, declining house values, college debt, spiraling medical insurance premiums, Mitt Romney.

No one needs an ivory tower English professor finger wagging at people to embrace the melancholy that pursues and embraces them.

Apr. 03 2012 06:47 AM
Ed from Larchmont

I suppose one can defend melancholy as something one shouldn't deny if that's how one feels. Accepting it and working through it is healthy. But as a final state melancholia isn't that good.

Apr. 03 2012 06:01 AM

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