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In Control of Happiness?

bhealy's picture

 In Anne's section on Thursday we continued discussing whether we believe that we have ownership over our own happiness. It seemed that everyone has a somewhat different view on the topic, with some believing that we can definitely choose to be happy and some believing that it is all completely out of our control, with some falling in between. Richard Powers' Generosity has opened my eyes a bit more to my own happiness, forcing me to be more aware of my mood and my feelings the last few weeks. Since I was paying more attention to my happiness level, our discussion really stayed with me, one idea in particular: we may not be able to change our current situation and problems greatly, but we can choose to paint it either darker or lighter. I think that this is where I stand, past Dennett's rejection of human agency in situations, but still acknowledging that there are things beyond our control most of the time. In our section we also concluded that Generosity suggests a caution against reductionism in terms of happiness - there is no single component, and I think I'm intrigued by the fact that each person believes that their happiness is a result of different things, different ratios, different situations.

This brought me to our discussion last Tuesday on Powers' use of a lot of descriptive language and whether he is trying to use his language and references to show that it's impossible to tell a new story. To me, the fact that I now see happiness as something so unique to each person indicates that there are countless numbers of new stories waiting to be told, because each person is so unique, and has such a unique view of life. While I have stated that I find the Library of Babel an interesting idea, I wonder now if I've had a change of heart. I'm not sure where I really stand, but it is safe to say that I am trying not to take my happiness for granted, and I definitely find the concept of happiness much more interesting now that I can see how each and every person interprets and defines happiness differently. 


ems8140's picture

Controlling Happiness

When I logged on to make my posting, I was pleased to find that you had also posted about the same topic I was planning on discussing. I was happy to read your viewpoints. I agree with your point that we may not be able to completely change a given situation, but we may attempt to make it more positive or negative. Having an internal locus of control, feeling that we determine our own emotions, behavior, fate, etc, is important in order to help maintain a healthy well-being. If a person has an external locus of control and feels like they have no say in his or her life, and makes no effort to try to alter a situation, he or she will likely not be a mentally or physically healthy person. I'm a strong believer in the fact that we are in control of our own lives and happiness. Perhaps this is just my personality, seeing as I was one of the few people in class on Thursday who always felt "in control while writing", but I think that if a miserable person makes the effort to try to be happy, she will succeed if she truly puts great effort into the process. As I wrote about in my second webpaper, people may be controlled by cultural and environmental memes; however, I think that people are in control of their own emotional well-being. To me it seems too pessimistic to say that we are unable to manage our own levels of happiness and other emotions.

Last Thursday I attended a panel about neglected tropical diseases. Two doctors and two nurses spoke about their experiences treating and helping people affected by these NTDs. The nurses presented a powerful narrative from the perspective of a woman in an area where NTDs are prevalent. They stated, “I am lucky, I was able to go to school as a child when so many others were unable; I am happy, I am not infected with any diseases that prevent me from walking the many miles to get water for my family; I am happy, my husband gave me money for seeds so I can sell produce in the market and feed my children.” This panel helped to reiterate to me that we truly do create our own happiness. Relative to the other women who were infected with terrible neglected tropical diseases that prevented them from doing their work or caused them excruciating pain, the uninfected women were happy and grateful.  To most people, the lives of these uninfected women would seem terrible, yet they are able to remain positive and appreciative.


ewashburn's picture

I like the way you've

I like the way you've contrasted the subjectivity of happiness for each person with Powers' description of the impossibility of new stories. I think it goes especially well with the fact that Powers decided to make one person the paragon of happiness, against which the happiness of all the other characters has to be judged. But who says that Thassa's experience of happiness is the happiness other people experience? Does the ability to roll with life's punches and come out smiling apply to the happiness Russell and Candace experience together? Does her "infallible" good mood surpass the joy Gabe feels playing his computer games? Powers tries to tell us that no stories are new and to avoid reduction in terms of happiness, yet he populates his story with characters widely differing in emotional states who are forced to compare their experience of happiness to Thassa's. In trying to tell us there is no new story, he brings to life a dozen characters with rich stories of their own; in trying to tell us that happiness is a unique experience born of genetic variation and live experience, he forces all of those emotionally different characters to standardize themselves based on one character's experience.

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