Savaging happiness

In: Uncategorized

11 Jul 2007

I have belatedly discovered a great letter by Michael Savage, an investment banker, criticising the idea that happiness is a desirable goal for humans to pursue. It was published in the Financial Times on 28 June. I have reproduced it in full below.

Sir, Even if “emotional resilience” and “the habits of optimism” can be taught ( “Why it is worthwhile teaching children well-being”, Anthony Seldon June 26), I do not want to learn them. I am even more repelled by the freakish idea of being taught how to “run my body optimally”. What Dr Seldon takes as pathological symptoms are more commonly and correctly viewed as part of the spice of life, sometimes dragging us down, sometimes pushing us forward. Trying things out and sometimes making “sub-optimal” choices for ourselves is better education than this.

In practice we knowingly devote most of our time to things that we do not expect to bring us happiness. Writing articles on happiness – and letters responding to them – is worthwhile as part of a conversation about the ends we ought to pursue, but does not make us happy. Only the most freakish children find school “fun”. And one finding from the research on happiness to which Dr Seldon refers is that raising children makes people unhappy. But raising children, pursuing careers, observing religious strictures and researching happiness are all aspects of life to which we may devote ourselves for rewards other than hedonism.

If happiness really is the chief human good, we should supplement happiness teaching with additional investment in pharmacological research to find the best drugs. But Dr Seldon is wrong. People who are always happy are dull, and the hedonistic life is shallow and unrewarding. Education is partly about training us to see beyond the merely entertaining and consider more inspiring and worthy ends.

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