“Happiness is a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”
- Nathaniel Hawthorne
The wisest teachers of Philosophy, Life and Rhetoric in Ancient Mesopotamia were often described as “Sophists“. The word itself is derived from the Greek “Sophos” which quite literally translates to “the wise man“. Greek Poets soon became known as “Sophistes” because they were generally considered to be masters of teaching life through language. The term evolved to mean anyone who taught others their craft, through language. Wise men who could depart their skill using simple rhetoric.
Somewhere deep along the road of History, the term “Sophist” has evolved from that of a “wise man” to that of (according to philosophypages.com); “A plausible argument that is actually fallacious, especially when someone dishonestly presents it as if it were legitimate reasoning“. In other words, a lie. A clever manipulation.
And so, my question to myself today is; The human mind, is it sophist in the modern sense of the word, by nature?. I’d argue that it is. I am fully aware that our minds are made up entirely of experiences, memories, chemical reactions and as stated in a previous blog entry, almost Pavlovian in how we deal with associations, desires, loves and especially what we perceive to be happiness, among other emotional responses. That is simply my stance on the complexity of the workings of the human mind. And yet, I feel an odd sense of deception. A masterfully intelligible deception by the human mind. The feeling of love, is so incredibly deep rooted, I often question how such a powerful emotion is simply the result of a chemical reaction induced by experience and memory. It doesn’t seem possible. It would seem quite innate, other Worldly, even divinely inspired, if I were a believer. But even that explanation, to me, seems too simple, too convenient, and supremely illogical when taken to the extreme that some people will commit acts of atrocity in the name of love (or what they consider to be love). I’m fully aware that the concept of love (or what we, relatively, have came to believe is love), is intrinsically man made.
I do not myself know what I consider to be happiness. It is a confusing term, that I often conflict with contentedness. Friends will tell me they’re at the happiest when they’re around family and friends. Now, in general I’m content when I’m around family and friends, I’m much less stressed, and my intense need to stare at myself inwardly like I’m holding up a mirror and gazing at my thoughts quietly subsides to the back of my mind, when I’m around family (not so much, with friends). But, I associate the feeling of happiness with an intense pleasure that I continually wish to recapture, an ideal state of being, the most significant chase, the realisation of vain desires that we’re unable to surpress. Perhaps we were only truly happy, as children, when “worry” was a word we could not comprehend, and life was inexplicably brilliant. We’d sit and think “eat, play football with friends, chase girls, watch TV… I could get used to this life“, but soon it fades and you’re forced to search for new meaning to the rather obscure and ambiguous notion of happiness. You’re told that you will be truly happy if you buy as much shit as you can afford; a car bigger than your neighbours, or a new outfit with Armani scribed into the back, or a Playstation 3, or a holiday on a beach somewhere for a week before falling back into the abstract rat race. But none of that is true happiness, in fact, it has the utterly opposite affect on me. I’m horribly stubborn like that. And so perhaps that is my problem, and the great barrier I have to overcome. My own Berlin Wall separating contentment from happiness. My stubbornness, unable to come to terms with the knowledge that I am far from perfect, that I have deep flaws, that I cannot know everything, than I am nothing special, that I cannot be everything; my own Berlin Wall.
Perhaps we as humans are so connected to each other spiritually, that we need each other in order to achieve a sense of happiness. Family, friends, lovers, artists, musicians and so on. French writer, Marcel Proust once remarked “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom” and whilst this is a beautiful use of language, it makes me wonder if my problem is that I’ve never met anyone who makes me feel magnificently happy. Perhaps my problem is that I’m suspicious of people in general, their motives, and so struggle to allow someone to make me feel happy. Which, in itself, causes unhappiness? But then, (you’ll soon start to realise why I want to wake up screaming in anguish most mornings) I have to ask, what is unhappiness? Because whilst I’m certainly not happy, I’m also certainly not unhappy, I simply, am.
Perhaps happiness exists not on a continuous flowing river, but on fleeting moments, one after the other, tiny side streams of pleasure, whilst the normal lugubrious, useless World flows by on that continuous river. A smile on a train station platform from a woman you quite like the look of, or a soft kiss on the cheek, or the moment you read in a book something that you instantly relate to and no longer feel alone, or an act of great kindness. Perhaps those moments, those positively shocking moments, are the building blocks of pure happiness.
Contemplation of life, does not make me happy, and yet, I cannot bring myself to ignore the need to contemplate, because if I were to ignore it, I’d feel ashamed of the ignorance I’d be portraying. It’s a trap. There is no happiness in contemplation, and there is no happiness in ignorance (I suspect that if deep contemplation has never graced your thought patterns, then ignorance may provide a much more pleasant existence). I have mentioned previously, that I only ever feel utterly calm; when I have escaped to the serenity of solitude when I’m sat on rocks, overlooking a vast tranquil, lifeless ocean in the early morning. The mellifluous sounds soothe me, and sky that seems to be conflicting with itself over what colour it should be; reds, blues, yellows mixing together. It calms me. I suppose it does make me happy, but soon the tide pulls out and is replaced by the millions upon millions of questioning and contemplating grains of sand. The morning lights flickering in a brand new posh hotel will provoke my mind into thinking “All that space, and they put a hotel for rich people up, what about homes for people who need it most?” And so the torment begins again. Whilst I call it torment (and here’s where my sophist mind plays it’s deceitful tricks on me), I’d feel disgustingly ignorant if I were to unquestioningly acquiesce to life (or what society tells me is “life“). So perhaps my ever weak questioning mind is the height of happiness for me? Or perhaps it’s all just one big mind trick. If there is a God, and he made me this way, I want an explanation and my money back. What actually is happiness? Is it an absolute emotion meticulously ingrained into each and every one of us, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s butterfly that shouldn’t be chased? Or is it that a man once felt an overwhelming sense of subjective joy and invented a concept to fit the experience? Have I ever experienced it?