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Published on Apr 19, 2017
“I’ve said that some people will tell you that the purpose of life is to be happy, and those people are idiots. Happiness is something that’s done in by the first harsh blow that reality deals you. There are many circumstances in life where the expectation of happiness as a response will put you in absolutely the wrong psychological state to be prepared for what must be done. People are built, so to speak, to experience a very wide range of motivational and emotional states, and so there’s a time to be compassionate, and there’s a time to be anxious, and the healthy and well adapted person has a very wide range of finely differentiated responses, which cannot be boiled down to a single dimension, say happiness versus unhappiness – life is not that simple.
Life is complex and tragic and difficult, and the problem with the public portrayal of the ideal state of humanness as happiness is that it makes all of these young people feel ashamed of their own suffering. They feel that, if they’re suffering and if they find their life tragic in its essence that that means there’s something wrong with them, and instantly that makes it impossible for them to communicate anything real about their own tragedy.
If you’re constantly in a state of satisfaction and happiness, then nothing is going to affect you deeply enough so that you become deep; and life without depth is - by definition - shallow and meaningless. In order to regard anything as truly important, you also have to regard its loss as truly meaningful. And that means that to open yourself up to experiences of deep meaning, also simultaneously means that you have to open yourself up to the possibility of deep hurt and sorrow. And you do that anytime, for example, that you make a relationship profound. You put your emotions on the line and that has to be real, or the relationship can’t be real.
You might compare the difference between elevator music and a Beethoven symphony. It’s not that the symphony is in any sense happier than the Muzak - in fact, quite the contrary - but it’s deeper and more profound and richer and incorporates more and justifies itself more, and that’s the right metaphor for life: not happiness, but depth and differentiated quality and profundity, to match the profundity of the necessity of suffering.”