The Healthy Resistance to Happiness

Clinton E. Betts Assistant Professor School of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University I simply could not resist the urge to deal with some of the controversial issues of happiness and health which Dr. Delamothe’s brief Editorial (Happiness British Medical Journal, 2005, 331, 1489-1490) does not even begin to address. Although I do not consider the following to be anywhere near comprehensive or completely argued, I have tried to present the more critically uncomfortable aspects of contemporary happiness and health which I believe are rarely addressed by scientists, researcher, teachers and practitioners engaged in the happiness and health of others. Truth, moral certitude, knowledge, the good and so on… and now happiness – another modern concept takes a postmodern turn of complexity? Imagine this, Delamothe (2005) seems to be suggesting that happiness is not just about getting more. That is more wealth, more status, more things, more comfort, or in the language of economics theory (or politics which seems to have become the same thing), more growth, more development, more improvement (though perhaps I could just sum it all up as more Modern Progress). Of course philosophers, artists and poets have been seriously concerned about happiness for most of civilization, or at any rate since the Greeks. However, whereas Aristotle thought that happiness was something one reasoned toward (and certainly by no means a simple given, perhaps we might even say that he though it took discipline and hard work), our modern notion of it is something which we can just possess by a rather routine feat of social engineering. Indeed, in the same manner as we suppose that we can engineer and possess health: Under [the] hypothesis of engineerability, “health as possession” has gained acceptance since the last quarter of the eighteenth century. In the course of the nineteenth century, it became commonsense to speak of “my body” and “my health.”… modern-day health is the fruit of possessive individualism. (Illich, 1990, p. 3) Perhaps we can simply add in – my happiness? How else do we explain Layard’s (2005) vision of social engineering in Happiness: Lessons from a new science, in which he claims, based on the enlightenment thought of Bentham (which if I am not mistaken was at the very epicentre of the modern world), that the explicit purpose of public policy and hence socio- political organization ought to be the maximization of collective happiness using good science. To be sure, what could be more conducive to health than happiness (and vice versa). Moreover, what could be more effective for achieving it than science? Surely it is at least problematic to contend that happiness is simply a matter of public policy? Regarding our engineering ethos, one might suggest that it appears, in a progressive sense, that we have historically made our way through the various forms of human psycho-social species, from Homo religiosus and Homo faber through Homo

As Kierkegaard (1965) once observed. and effortlessness and we invariably see this as a good. 290). for at least a few centuries now. In making the world the product of individuals’ thoughts and fancies and in talking about construction as though it involved the free play of fancy. 282). Indeed. modernists believe they make the world in their image…” (p. reason and progress was all that was necessary for the engineering of what is wanted. though perhaps the simplest and most notable is that what (we think) we are progressing toward is happiness. due to technological advance. Indeed. yet still aggressively . referring to the work of Donna Haraway. As Latour (1999) puts it “What is at stake is mastery. If we take something of the reverse to be valid. (p. That animal. or such maladies. 78). perhaps even as a result.' say the most refined. imagining that we can create our own rules of the game. with an increase in comfort. Perhaps the same can be said for happiness – that is – you can’t have it. we could sum up Modern Progress in so many ways. the last man was Nietzsche’s condescending reference to the modern human being who believes that his (or her) own will to knowledge. Hunter. Furedi (2004a) refers to a therapy culture that “[cultivates] a powerful sense of vulnerability… undermines subjectivity and the sense of human agency.” (p. it has to have you somehow. Such a malady. while Schwartz (2004) has called attention to the the paradox of choice “…the goal of maximizing is a source of great dissatisfaction. calls Homo cyborg. That is to say that we can simply get what we want by designing the conditions for it.” (Woolfolk. 414). 130). when one’s (or even an entire cultures) motives are not actually valued (or even values at all). this edict seems to be ineluctably associated. beautiful. and they blink.economicus. As Mitcham (1998) put it “engineers are… the unacknowledged philosophers of the postmodern world. can properly be called moral schizophrenia… (p. Homo sociologicus. designs and implements the want of its will. Yet despite a few centuries of Progress our happiness seems to be declining. As well as a Culture of Fear (Furedi. right. what else could be the end goal of our efforts? Moreover. Homo civicus and Homo politicus to what we have now – Homo engineericus. all the world was mad. To be sure. but only in such a way that it catches you. particularly those of us who do health and happiness for others. Yet when it comes to happiness. that is.” ( 3). values and justifications. According to Stocker’s famous thesis: One mark of the good like is a harmony between one’s motives and one’s reasons. After all aren’t we moderns. who researches. 133).' say the last men. For some strange reason I was reminded of Stocker’s (1976) Moral Schizophrenia while reading Delamothe’s commentary. what is it that stands between us and (the having of) it. “the truth is a snare: you cannot have it without being caught. Not to be moved by what one values – what one believes good. p.” (p. that can make people miserable…” (p. 453-54). Tsou and Sainbury (2005) have recently coined the phrase diseases of comfort “… the human race will be pushed toward a primary cause of death from ‘diseases of comfort’ (such as those chronic diseases caused by obesity and physical inactivity). borrowing from the past as we see fit. “We live in the present. 1982. the very action of Progress in motion? “‘Formerly.” (p. and they blink… 'We have invented happiness. and so on – bespeaks a malady of the spirit. 1997) that sees everything as risk(y). 1030)." (Nietzsche. no doubt a close relation to what Grassie (1996). and maybe even our health as well. 2003). nice. You cannot have the truth in such a way that you catch it. Choi. ease.

As Phillip Rieff (1987) put it in The Triumph of the Therapeutic: That a sense of well-being has become an end. It would seem then that happiness and health are somewhat related concepts. on a modern truth that the obsessive pursuit of happiness is a sort of madness to which our society is particularly prone. syndrome. or even essential. healing. 2004. despite our best social engineering efforts? Well clearly we need therapy “The vocabulary of therapeutics no longer refers to unusual problems or exotic states of mind. but has become especially evident in recent years. depression and despair. more – does not seem to make us happy. rather than a by. comfort. Perhaps the answer was provided to us by Nietzsche over a century ago – resistance. a large proportion of the population seems to be dependent on medications and other substances to avoid falling into a more or less permanent state of anxiety. for the striving to involve happiness at some point along the way.pursued (wealth. They have become part of our cultural imagination. health and happiness? Health certainly is: The valorization of health has been a feature of secularized societies for a long time. but who among us can avoid the compulsion of consumptive progress? So what do we do when we are not happy. improvement and so forth). that in order to be happy one needs to remove any resistance to it. 261) The key word in Rieff’s claim seems to me to be striving. By this I do not mean and certainly neither did Nietzsche. but rather the converse. status. development. trauma. announces a fundamental change of focus in the entire cast of our culture – toward a human condition about which there will be nothing further to say in terms of the old style of despair and hope. health today appears to be endorsed as a kind of meta-value. 1576). 1). referring to Richard Bentall’s not so funny parody of psychiatry. and speaking in the name of health is one of the most powerful rhetorical devices.” (Furedi. 2003. growth. In fact. Thus it is understandable that the banal striving for nothing more than – more. mid-life crisis.product of striving after some superior communal end. In the context of Western democracies. negative emotions. At any rate we are certainly witness to a fundamental change in all things cultural. striving for that happiness is a part of the equation? Put differently what is necessary. p. 1) As for happiness. or worst of all once the therapy is complete “For decades we have all been striving for the good life. (p. What is missing then. addiction compulsion. 12). “He may have stumbled unwittingly. aren’t the two grand meta-values of the postmodern era. p. Now that most of us have it. is an increase of power… driven by that will it seeks . perhaps we end up with a cultural schizophrenia of the kind Tarnas (1991) characterizes in The Passion of The Western Mind. When that therapy fails. we can only be happy when we are up against some worthy resistance: Man does not seek pleasure and does not avoid displeasure… Pleasure and displeasure are mere consequences. Greaves (2000) once suggested.” (p. however. or ought we to be. more. anxiety. for what ever reason. (Greco. what is it that stands between us and happiness? What are we. or counselling refer to the normal episodes of daily life. things. p. or one fails to obtain it. Terms like stress. 2004b. a proposal to classify happiness as a psychiatric disorder. what every smallest part of a living organism wants.” (Hamilton. mere epiphenomena – what man wants. which we seem to have inherited from the modern.

And certainly something other than a progress to pathological unhappiness. 1993). In any case. or what Allen (2002) referred to as a Banal Utopia or Tragic Recompense “modern technoscience is certainly taking us somewhere. is therefore a normal fact… man does not avoid it. certainly those of the happiness and health industry are not. As Latour (2003) cogently notes. Seems about right eh? Although we often refer to the current age as the postmodern. ironically against the iconoclasm of modernism. or Latour’s (1993) audacious contention that we have never been modern. perhaps the same kind that Schwatz alludes to regarding choice. but to think his thoughts. In particular The Will To Power.resistance. sounds today very much like something that we should have nothing to do with and perhaps for some very good reasons. or at any rate a similar line of reflection. or No-Where). for example. but it is more likely over a cliff than into Bentham’s promise land. however there are certainly other possibilities. I refer to those of us who claim to be researchers. especially among us nonphilosophers (scientists. what he and those of his ilk did was to ask serious questions. 36). teachers. high modernity (Giddens. put it “… Nietzsche thinks what it is to be a modern man more comprehensively. Add to this Heller’s (2005) contention that freedom is indeed a paradox. 276). than any other thinker… Therefore the first task of somebody trying to think… is not to inoculate. modernity. late capitalism (Jameson. what Kaufman (1989) called galloping consumption on virtually every front. it might well be a destructive freedom at that. materialism. he is rather in continual need of it… (Nietzsche. But freedom from what? Freedom from caution and care…” (p. 1999). I do not suggest though that Nietzsche provides many answers for us (perhaps none in fact). it needs something that opposes it – Displeasure. we are probably still in the modern world and although this may not be the enlightenment. moral and otherwise. Yet we are all likely a little guilty of a lack of attentiveness to “caution and care” and it now seems as though we are riding our modern successes into a new postmodern pathology. Such thoughts. For most of them it is (modern) business as usual. Yet as Latour (1999) recently pointed out. hypermodernity (Virilio.” (p.” (p.” (p. 373) I certainly realize that Nietzsche is a controversial figure. 2005) compelling in his explication of what he refers to as second. more deeply. who was certainly no Nietzschean. I find Ulrich Beck (Beck & Lau. practitioners or what not of health and happiness. think serious thoughts and develop a serious critique of the human aspiration to utopia (which if we remember More. p. “… the life of the moderns should become miserable. Freedom is precisely what permits and justifies the iconoclast’s strokes. means No-Place. truth. brutal and short… [yet] the moderns are simply falling back on ‘business’… as usual’. 64). As Grant (2001). By us. in my view. The question is why. as an obstacle to its will to power. 1986). another modernity (Lash. researchers and practitioners of health and happiness). as an invaluable iconoclast. and to be sure Progress). “No one ever had so much freedom. 1984). particularly in the health and happiness industry where we simply forge ahead with the same old engineering agenda. 40). And of course. or reflective. 1968. it is doubtful that we are even in a postmodern phase of history. However. I mean to suggest a serious critique of modernist assumptions. that is – solve a problem with a problem and this . which few are asking. are essential for us to once again take up. that Nietzsche spoke so much of. perhaps the flashing beacon of the modern world (en-lighten-ment) was above all freedom. we are still firmly commanded by modern assumptions (epistemology.

Perhaps we might say something similar about health and happiness. if they have accomplished anything. ecology. 2003)). if only to complicate the matter. W. often without much needed qualification. Thanks For Your Time C. have at least shown this to be fallacious. 56(4). universal set of good values with which to combat the bad (such would simply be another unwarranted modern assertion). less discomfort and so on.despite Agnes Heller’s (2005) admonition that. And yet. D. Chio. that is less resistance. and the “problem of science” for Nietzsche. erroneous assumption – the modern good life of tranquility and repose. C. Moreover. which seems to me necessary – even urgent. by advantages… But that is a prejudice: a sign that truth is not involved at all. B. Beck. Latour. we must we working against something. and to be sure critical. less travail. C. As Nietzsche (1968) once remarked “How is truth proved? By the feeling of enhanced power – by utility – by indispensability – in short. less effort. (2002). We are addicted to an ill-conceived. Second modernity as a research agenda: Theoretical and empirical explorations in the ‘meta-change’ of modern society. And like all addictions (and those who are addicted) there is no “caution and care” when the habit takes precedence.” (p. (2005). 74).” (p. I do not mean to suggest that there is a single. . Hunter. E. 2005. 1030-1034. Betts References Allen. U. and modern life – any more than life in general – is not a problem to be solved. British Journal of Sociology. 26-41. & Lau. we are given to speak of health and happiness as universal rights. pleasure and satisfaction. acquisition and accumulation – bad values as it were. Indeed. 5(1&2). I suspect that we are becoming addicted to the solving of problems as a way of Progress. J. two in particular – health and happiness.. 59. work for something more than more. P. B. Since medicalization metaphors are all the rage these days. & Sainsbury. (2005). Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. I am not suggesting some manner of unbridled iconoclasm regarding happiness and health. rather it is the opposite which I advocate. more. more and certainly for more than less. that we are somehow bequeathed by virtue of being born human. Banal utopia or tragic recompense? Positivism.” (p. “For we are far from dealing here with problems that can be solved: we are dealing with social actors caught in the double bind. K. The continual. as a means to happiness and indeed a way of life. 525-557. 27). it seems to me to be a sobering assertion that to be happy. whatever that means.. Of course. Diseases of comfort: Primary cause of death in the 22nd century. New Nietzsche Studies. we don’t seem to realize that our methodology and procedure for accomplishing health and happiness for all is simply no longer working (if indeed it ever was) and may in fact be causing some of the problems that we have as side effects of the solutions to other problems (Beck & Lau. certainly the postmoderns. However. As Bertrand Russell once said “to be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness. exercise of caution and care in the trajectory of whatever direction our culture is moving. I might be wrong. Tsou. I offer one of my own here. 249-250).

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