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kgrass's picture

 A lot of our discussions have revolved around our ability to make ourselves happy, and how much of our happiness is genetically inclined. What makes people happy is truly dependent on environment, and what people expect out of life. I feel like in America, our happiness levels are much harder to get to because we are used to instant gratification all the time. The means of survival has no longer become a central issue in our everyday lives. We’ve gone past the necessity to survive, and towards the goal of thriving. Life is not about living anymore, it is striving towards making things “better”, which is in essence what will make us “happier”. Because we are always striving towards this goal, we don’t stop to think how we may be happy already.  We seem to never be satisfied.  Powers writes, “wanting is what having wants to recover”. What makes us tick is the ability to strive towards a certain goal, which gives us false sense that we know exactly what will make us happy is what actually makes us happy. People couldn’t understand why Thassa could have so much happiness when she had gone through so much. Thassa had the ability to focus on her present state, her present happiness. She had escaped the worries of having to survive, and now she could focus on thriving. She didn’t understand how people could be so unhappy when they had so many opportunities. 

            Right now, I am taking an anthropology class called Dance, Migration, and Exile, which focuses on how displaced people (like Thassa) try to cope with their hardships. Outsiders provide these people with food, water, and shelter, but the actual exiled persons have set up art and dance programs to help maintain their cultural heritage, and as a way for control over their uncontrollable situation. In the documentary War Dance, children in a refugee camp in Uganda had to watch their parents being killed, were separated from siblings and other family members, and even forced to kill other innocent people. Despite everything these children had to go through, when they were able to dance, they were genuinely happy.   I think being exposed to all of those hardships gives these children a sense of what happiness really is, and that happiness is easier to find than we make it out to be. The simple joy of having a meal and sleeping in a soft bed is often suffocated by our preoccupation of what is the next thing that will make me happy? Thassa lived in the moment and cherished her ability to focus on something other than survival. We often forget that we have to balance thinking about the next best thing and the present best thing. 

            On another note, the ending of Generosity and the writing style as a whole was a hot topic in discussion on Thursday as well. I think I’m not satisfied by the ending because I felt like Powers was saying goodbye to Thassa and was acknowledging that she didn’t exist. This made the character less real to me, and therefore actually decreased my ability to imagine her beyond the book. It did feel like an ending, but of the character, not the book. I think what we crave in fiction is the ability to lose ourselves in someone else’s world, and Powers kept bringing us back to reality.  


Poppyflower's picture

Is the internet to blame?

I also agree that we, especially Americans, seem not to just want, but expect instant gratification from whatever we put our minds to. Personally, I know that I am very impatient and that I expect immediate results after I start something. For example, I have many knitting projects that are half finished because I grow impatient with them after a few hours, and become frustrated that I have not gotten farther on the project, or even finished it in a few short hours. Also, I think this idea of instant gratification is not something that Americans have always had. We did, after all, have to work very hard and for a very long time to free ourselves from the British and to establish ourselves as a world power. Instant gratification is, in my opinion, a very recent development that one could say basically happened over night. And, I think that the internet is to blame. With the internet, we are able to receive an endless amount of information, all with the click of a button. Extensive research that once took days now takes only a few short hours, and research that took hours now could only take minutes. This is also probably one of the reasons why Americans are so unhappy, and desire to have 'things' to make them happy. We live in a materialistic society, and we have the idea that the more we have in our life (which leads to instant gratification,) the happier we will be. But it is people like Thassa who are able to distinguish between what makes them happy on the surface from what makes them happy in the long run. And while I admire her 'ability' to that, it is, unfortunately, a very difficult thing to first accept, and then do. For example, while looking at pictures of a tropical beach might please you for a minute, it is not as good as the real thing. The image can't make you happy, while the place can, but it is up to you to work for that happy place. If it comes to easy, it is probably not worth it or lasting. Instant gratification, is, after all only instant.

elly's picture

Instant Gratification

 "I feel like in America, our happiness levels are much harder to get to because we are used to instant gratification all the time." I agree very strongly with this, and believe that rather than thinking about the human race as a whole, I often think about Americans and their relationship to evolution, and their ability to feel happy. I find myself wondering about antidepressants, and chemical relationships in the brain and everyones constant desire to "fix" something that must be wrong because we can never be satisfied and happy! Is one of the reasons that Thassa makes us so frustrated is because she is focused on the present like is said above? I'm not sure...

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