The Happiness Machine isn’t Meaningful

A couple of years ago, when I first started this blog, I decided the purpose would be for posting about things that made me feel alive. I think for a long time, that meant posting about things that brought me joy. Life experience = Feeling Joy = Feeling Alive (or something like that). And that equation is true. Mostly. Feeling joy really does bring fulfillment and meaning for me. However, that equation has become more complex over time.

Life experiences that allow for feeling joy aren’t the only ones that lead to feeling alive. Big, harder to deal with emotions and experiences also make me feel alive.

Grief.

Passion.

Fear.

Anger.

A lot of different feelings are formed through important life experiences and each are part of life. However, two years ago I wasn’t ready to accept these emotions. It was terrifying to think that I will have to feel real grief in my life. It was terrifying to think that I might love someone so much that it might change the course of my life (MY LIFE! Wasn’t it mine to own?). It was terrifying to think that I might love someone so much it would actually hurt to lose them. Ultimately, I wasn’t allowing myself a lot of life experiences because I was afraid they might lead to my unhappiness.

There was an argument in one of my philosophy classes in college called the happiness machine. Basically, if happiness is the meaning of life then there shouldn’t be anything wrong with creating a happiness machine where people spend all of their time becoming happy and don’t do anything else with their life. They go into the happiness machine, they become happy, the end. (A more present day, realistic alternative would be to say that there is nothing wrong with a person using heroine everyday who happened to own an endless supply of money and a caretaker because it makes them happy and happiness is the meaning of life. Can life be truly be wasted on drugs if the person is happy because of the drugs?)

I knew at the time that there was something wrong with this idea but I couldn’t tell my professor what it was. The answer that I now think to be true is that happiness is not the meaning of life.

But don’t we do everything to be happy?

Happiness is a good feeling, of course, but our lives are not built around happiness and nor should they be. Isn’t constant happiness boring? Doesn’t feeling pleasant everyday also make pleasant feel mundane?

The more pleasant our lives become the more inconvenienced we become by insignificances. My nail polish is chipped and I’m too embarrassed to wear that flashy ring that will draw attention to my hands, and God, I really wanted to wear that ring tonight. And then I stop and think, do I really care about my nail polish or am I just looking to care about something?

Classic case of “first world problems”. I’m so grateful for the life I’ve been able to live. I’m grateful that the only problems I’ve had to deal with are insignificant ones. However, those problems really did matter to me. But maybe I would’ve cared less about insignificances if I’d found more significances to care about.

I believe that the purpose of life is to care about life. Having passion for a subject, an activity, and a person have all brought meaning to my life. So that’s what I’m setting out to do. I’m setting out to find a subject that I could ace the jeopardy round to, because I love learning about that subject. I’m setting out to find new hobbies that I love to do even if they are terrifying (skiing is literally falling down a mountain and I am obsessed). I’m setting out to allow myself to be vulnerable, because the risk is also the reward.

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