Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ignorance is Bliss

One of the things that sets humans apart from animals is emotion. Love, jealousy, anger, disgust, people are always investing and intertwining emotion with what they do. Sometimes, this can backfire. People are let down, hearts are broken, rash decisions are made.

Maybe it would be better if somehow we could cut out emotion. Choices would always be carefully made and based on fact. We could never be hurt by the death of a loved one or the infidelity of a significant other because we would have no attachment. Without something invested, there is nothing to lose. Unfortunately, this is largely impossible within the confines of human nature.

Unless your name is Meursault and you are the main character of Albert Camus's The Stranger. Meursault derives all of his pleasure from the physical things around him - sex, swimming, eating, and sunsets. Emotion is really not involved. Although this makes him somewhat of a zombie shell of a man, he completely avoids being hurt. He is unphased by the death of his mother and unabashed at the affections of his girlfriend, Marie. The only time emotion breaches the stronghold that is Meursault's heart, he proceeds to make the worst decision of his life in shooting the Arab for revenge. It would seem that The Stranger offers up a strong case against emotion.

And yet, what would life be without it? Sure, material pleasures are great, but they are ephemeral. What happens when the girls become old and ugly, the food becomes stale, an the sunset becomes dull? Emotion can cause problems, but a life completely devoid of it wouldn't really be living at all. Besides, if one shuns all emotion, how can that person feel happiness?

A Blessing and a Curse

There is a fine line between genius and crazy. Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment definitely toes it. The book is filled cover to cover with his inner struggle, his thoughts, anxieties and paranoia, bred from the fact that he is different, whether genius or insane.

Forget happiness for Raskolnikov. He's more worried about climbing out of depression than reaching any type of happy peak. In his mind, his incredible mind sets him apart from the society he lives in, alienating him and branding him as an outcast. It is this separation that spurs the sadness, the shame, and the blaring lonesomeness. He feels nothing, sees nothing and hears nothing when it comes to those around him, because he is on a separate level. Lost in his own introverted world, one more advanced than the world of his neighbors. Or at least that's what he tells himself.

Perhaps Raskolnikov's theory should be disregarded as schizophrenic nonsense. But it still brings up an interesting question. Can gifted people be mistaken for outcasts in our world? Does being too set apart from the norm through the magnitude of a certain ability incur a life of loneliness and misunderstandings? Is being normal a key ingredient to happiness? I hope not. Abnormalities, the good ones, are what keep the world spinning. They invent the atomic bomb, they start revolutions, they lead, innovate and dream. There can be misunderstandings. But I think genius, in any form, should be embraced.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Are we destined to be happy? Do the stars decide our quality of life?

Oedipus Rex never even had a chance. He was a good guy caught in a bad web, a web spun by the gods and by fate. No matter how hard he tried to avoid it, his destiny was to kill his father, marry his mother, and live in misery for the rest of his days. Happiness was never an option for Oedipus, and the pursuit of it was always in vain.

It is a scary thought to think of happiness as predetermined.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The American Dream

You can't buy happiness.
Is that so?

For different reasons, Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay embark on a journey guaranteed to yield some serious coin for the both of them. They had problems, and money could fix that. Money, it seemed, could fix everything.

Skip forward to the end of the book. After a lifetime in the pursuit of comfortable salary, both Joe and Sam have just as many problems, only with different faces. Sam struggles with homosexuality, as he raises the son his best friend Joe left to fight in World War 2. It's safe to say that money didn't solve everything.

But maybe money isn't the bad guy. Maybe its putting all faith into one tangible thing for happiness, as if there were a magical cure-all for life's problems. Maybe there is no cure. Happiness can only come when problems are realized, faced and overcome. There are no shortcuts around them.

Home is Where the Heart is

"Happiness is not a destination; its a journey"
               - Anonymous

Well in a certain Greek hero's case, the opposite is true.

Odysseus couldn't be content until he was resting his head on his own pillow in his own bed with his own wife in Ithaca. His pursuit of happiness was more or less a pursuit of home sweet home.

At times his resolve was tested, but it didn't take long for our hero to realize that true happiness came with his own family and property. All other forms were fleeting and hollow - Lotus Eaters, Calypso, etc.

Is home the only peg that can fit perfectly in the hole of happiness? Those lucky enough to have a warm household and loving family like Odysseus did could agree. But what about those who don't? where is their home? If we look at home as an idea, and not a finite physical location, the answer becomes clear. Everybody in this world has a home, the thing or group of things that make them most comfortable, accepted, and, ultimately, happy. Whether your at home when your painting, or making music, or reading, or running, or playing online video games, or even sitting on the throne of ancient Ithaca, the concept of a home is important to every human being. And home is where the happiness is.

Opening Remarks

I chose the title A Delicate Conundrum for my blog not only because it is one of my favorite phrases and it makes me sound learned and sophisticated, but also because the subject of my big question - happiness - is indeed a puzzling and complicated. Happiness can be defined in about a million different ways and represented in a million more. Yet even with its confusing nature, happiness remains a pivotal part of the human experience, a goal nearly all of mankind share. It is a driving force, a common link, a universal subject that we all can study. Many great minds have expressed thoughts about the true art of the pursuit of happiness. One of the ways we can look at this is through their literature.