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aseidman's picture

Happiness and Free Will?

Recently I saw a production at Swarthmore College by the Johannes Weiland dance troupe. It was called "NewYou", and although there were numberous other notable elements to it, the one that applies best to this class is the particular way in which the performers chose to break the fourth wall.

At the beginning of the production, one of the performers stepped forward and asked the audience the following question:

"Are you you happy, and if so, how did you make yourself happy, and if so, why?"

Typically, no one stepped up to answer the question, and all preferred to leave it rhetorical. Is it, in essence, a rhetorical question? How can we make ourselves happy? I suppose my question is similar to jrlewis's question, just above mine. Is happiness a question of free will?

The reason the question was left rhetorical is that not only is the answer to the question a difficult one to find, but people are often not sure if they really want to know the answer. It's a catch 22 of a problem. If happiness is a question of free will, if we choose to do things that will fulfill us and make us happy, why are we unhappy? Are we, individually and personally,  making poor choices? Is it definitively our fault that we are unhappy?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if we feel that happiness is not a choice of free will, why not throw up our hands in defeat, since there's nothing we can individually and personally do to create that happiness?


Tough questions arise when you start to try to talk about free will. Try a couple of your own. For example, "are you successful, if so, how did you get there, and if so, why?" Harder to answer than you might think.


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