The Emotions and Happiness
“Happiness” has been defined by an authority as “the pleasurable emotion arising from the gratification of all desires; the enjoyment of pleasure without pain.” Another has said that “happiness is the state in which all desires are satisfied.” But these definitions have been attacked. It is held by many that a state of the absolute _satisfaction_ of desire would not be happiness, for happiness consists largely in pleasurable anticipation and imaginings which disappear upon the realization of the desire. It is held that absolute satisfaction would be a negative state. Paley expressed a better idea when he said that “any condition may be denominated ‘happy’ in which the amount or aggregate of pleasure exceeds that of pain, and the degree of happiness depends upon the quantity of this excess.”
Some have held that an existing contrast between pain and pleasure (the balance being in favor of the latter) is necessary to establish happiness. Be this as it may, it is admitted by all that one’s happiness or unhappiness depends entirely upon one’s emotional nature and the degree of the satisfaction thereof. And it is generally admitted that to be happy is the great aim and object of the life of the majority of persons,–if, indeed, not of _every_ person,–the happiness, of course, depending upon the quality and degree of the emotions forming the person’s emotional nature. Thus it is seen that we are dependent upon the emotional side of our mental life in this as in nearly everything else making life worth while.
Theologians have often sought to point out that happiness is not the goal of life and living, but human nature has always insisted that happiness is the greatest end, and philosophy has generally supported it. But wisdom shows that happiness is not always dependent upon the pleasure of the moment, for the sacrifice of immediate pleasure frequently results in a much greater happiness in the future. In the same way an immediate disagreeable task often gains for us a greater satisfaction in the future. Likewise, it is frequently greater happiness to sacrifice a personal pleasure for the happiness of others than it would be to enjoy the pleasure of the moment at the expense of the pain of the other. There is often a far greater pleasure resulting from an altruistic action of self-sacrifice than in the performance of the selfish, egoistic act. But, as the subtle reasoner may insist, the result is the same–the ultimate happiness and satisfaction of the self. This conclusion does not rob the altruistic act of its virtue, however, for the person who finds his greatest pleasure in giving pleasure to others is to be congratulated–as is the community which shelters him.
There is no virtue in pain, suffering, sacrifice, or unhappiness _for its own sake_. This illusion of asceticism is vanishing from the human mind. Sacrifice on the part of the individual is valuable and valid only when it results in higher present or future happiness for the individual or some one else. There is no virtue in pain, physical or mental, except as a step to a greater good for ourselves or others. Pain at the best is merely nature’s alarm and warning of “not this way.” It is also held that pain serves to bring out pleasure by contrast, and is therefore valuable in this way. Be this as it may, no normal individual deliberately seeks ultimate pain in preference to ultimate happiness; the greatest ultimate happiness to one’s self and to those he loves is the normal and natural goal of the normal person. But the concept of “those he loves,” in many cases, includes the race as well as the immediate family.
Wisdom shows the individual that the greatest happiness comes to him who controls and restrains many of his feelings. Dissipation results in pain and unhappiness ultimately. The doctrine of thoughtless indulgence is unphilosophical and is contradicted by the experience of the race. Moreover, wisdom shows that the highest happiness comes not from the indulgence of the physical feelings alone, or to excess, but rather from the cultivation, development, and manifestation of the higher feelings–the social, æsthetic, and intellectual emotions. The higher pleasures of life, literature, art, music, science, invention, constructive imagination, etc., yield a satisfaction and happiness keener and more enduring than can possibly the lower forms of feeling. But the human being must not despise any part of his emotional being. Everything has its uses, which are good; and its abuses, which are bad. Every part of one’s being, mental and physical, is well to use; but no part is well used if it uses the individual instead of being itself used.
A recent writer has held that the end and aim of life should not be the pursuit of happiness, but rather the building of character. The obvious answer is that the two are identical in spirit, for to the man who appreciates the value of character, its attainment is the greatest happiness; the wise teach that the greatest happiness comes to him who is possessed of a well-rounded, developed character. Another writer has said that “the aim of life should be self-improvement, with a due regard to the interest of others.” This is but saying that the greatest happiness to the wise man lies in this course. Any one who is wise enough, or great enough, to make these ends the aim and goal of life will find the greatest happiness therefrom. Arnold Bennett advances as a good working philosophy of life: “cheerfulness, kindliness, and rectitude.” Can any one doubt that this course would bring great ultimate happiness?
Happiness consists in that which “contents the spirit,” and the latter depends entirely upon the character of the feelings and emotions entertained by one, as weighed in the balance of reason, and as passed upon by judgment and the sense of right action. The greatest degree of happiness, or at least the greatest ratio of pleasure over pain, is obtained by a careful and intelligent cultivation of the feeling side of one’s being in connection with the cultivation of the intellect and the mastery of the will. To be able to bring the capacity for enjoyment to its highest; to be able to intelligently choose that which will bring the greatest ultimate happiness in accordance with right action; and, finally, to be able to use the will in the direction of holding fast to that which is good and rejecting that which is bad–this is the power of creating happiness. The feelings, the intellect, and the will–here, as ever–combine to manifest the result.
Finally, it must be remembered that all human happiness consists in part of the ability to bear pain–to suffer. There must be the dash of Stoicism in the wise Epicurean. One must learn to pluck from pain, suffering, and unhappiness the secret drop of honey which lies at its heart, and which consists in the knowledge of the meaning and use of pain and the means whereby it may be transmuted into knowledge and experience, from which later happiness may be distilled. To profit by pain, to transmute suffering into joy, to transform present unhappiness into a future greater happiness–this is the privilege of the philosopher.
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The mental states and activities known as “desire” are a direct development of the feeling and emotional phase of the mind and form the motive power of the will. Desire, in fact, may be said to be composed of feeling on one side and will on the other. But the influence of the intellect or reasoning faculties has a most important part to play in the evolution of feeling into desire, and in the consequent action of the will by the presentation and weighing of conflicting desires. Therefore, the logical place for the consideration of the activities of the intellect is at this point–between emotion and will. Accordingly, we shall leave the subject of feeling and emotion for the present, to be taken up again in connection with the subject of _desire_, after we have considered the intellectual processes of the mind. But, as has been indicated, we shall see the presence and influence of the feelings and emotions even in the activities of the intellect.