This is just one man’s experience, but I’ve never met an interesting happy person, at least no one I can recall.
I’ve met quite a few unhappy interesting people, and probably thousands of happy dullards. Though one has to be sceptical about taking the numerical path to truth, this sheer arithmetic disparity does point to some kind of causative relationship.
Happiness and the pursuit thereof only moved to the forefront of human aspirations in the midst of those two greatest misnomers in history: the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment.
Enshrined in the founding document of modernity, the Declaration of Independence, happiness became something to pursue before anything else, such as virtue or truth.
Fair enough, those outdated pursuits seemed to be less conducive to happiness than to violent death, as shown by an even cursory glance at hagiography.
Saints accepted martyrdom not because they were after happiness, but because they were after salvation. Eudaemonic was seen as a near synonym of demonic.
Moving down from that lofty plain, Aristotle explained why truth seekers court a lifetime of misery: “The more you know,” said the Greek, who possessed one of the greatest minds in history, “the more you know you don’t know”.
Aristotle knew exactly what he was talking about. For truth is like a silk thread, shiny and slippery.
One catches the very end, and even that ability is given to very few, but as one tries to pull it in the end slips away. One grabs it again and this time manages to secure the end and perhaps another foot or so.
This is an incessant exertion; it would make Hercules look indolent in the stables. And there isn’t just one thread, but many.
They all lead towards the same point, but they wiggle on the ground, and as you catch one end, you lose another. The only way to succeed is never to stop. The moment one stops, the shiny strands will wiggle away, and one will never see them again, will never be able to weave them together into truth.
No one can be made happy by rubbing his mind to oozing blood by crawling on the flinty ground every minute of his life, knowing in advance that the closer one gets to the destination, the further away it really is.
Misery is bound to follow, but it’s the kind of sweet misery that a thinker wouldn’t replace with happiness for all the cheap clothes in China.
Yet with the advent of those two misnomers I mentioned earlier, truth no longer mattered, not vitally at any rate. The success of one’s life got to be judged on mostly philistine criteria, of which happiness, typically defined in economic terms, was foremost.
Unlike a truth-seeker, a pursuer of happiness doesn’t know how little he knows, which is why he’s convinced he knows everything there is. Today’s happy chappy is a Mr Know-Sod-All who thinks he’s a Mr Know-All.
Such a person can be all sorts of good things: nice, kind, sympathetic, clever even. One thing he absolutely can’t be under any circumstances is interesting. Someone who pursues happiness, and especially someone who has found it, is as dull as ditch water – and a rather shallow ditch at that.
In that context it’s interesting to see whether this observation holds true if extrapolated from individuals to countries. Here the current league tables come in handy.
According to them, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Switzerland are the happiest countries in the world, while both the UK and the US languish in mid-table. Now I don’t mean to insult those countries, nor especially the lovely, hard-working people who inhabit them, but…
Let’s just say that someone out to have an interesting life is unlikely to name any of those countries as his first choice of residence. I mean, Palermo or Madrid may be full of miserable gits, but wouldn’t you rather live there than in, say, Stockholm?
(However, looking at all those gorgeous blonde Valkyries roaming Stockholm, one may pause to ponder that choice – while wondering what they add to school milk there.)
Now what makes those people so happy? They do earn a lot of money (even if much of it is taken away in taxes), live long lives and have vast welfare states. Is that it? Possibly – likely even, considering modernity’s gravitational pull towards philistine bliss.
But, if we accept the direct, causative relationship between dullness and happiness… no, surely we mustn’t. We shouldn’t discount all those giants of culture and scholarship produced by Scandinavian countries in the past fifty years – I’m sure you’ll have no problem naming scores of them.
Those of us who can’t do that quite so easily remark that at least in the past Sweden and other Scandinavian countries had the world’s highest suicide rates, hinting at some hidden emotional depths.
Yet even that is no longer the case: six of the top ten suicide rates are boasted by countries of the former Soviet Union, with Russia herself in the silver medal position. Sweden, on the other hand, is in 68th place – how dull can they get?
Here’s a thought, and I wouldn’t be able to support it factually. But is it possible that Scandinavians have encouraged millions of exotic migrants to settle there specifically because they seek relief from their happy, humdrum routine?
I’d love to go to, say, Malmö and research this proposition, but, if half the things one reads about the crime rate caused by the migrants are true, I may not get out of there alive. Perhaps, dullness does have something going for it after all.