A Future of Happiness
In the most generic sense, happiness is the fulfillment of our desires. If we yearn for the love and warmth of another, then our happiness will depend upon the fulfillment of that quintessential yearning named love; if we yearn for material wealth, then materialistic ideals will deliver us to a blissful utopia. In this sense, happiness is arrived at by the acquisition of those many objects that become the fixation of our desires, the satiations of hope. Happiness comes through successive steps towards a future state of affairs, in some sense.
This generic conception of happiness, though incomplete, is an intuitive way of thinking about happiness; it is prevalent in our societies. A mother hopes that her child will come to join her in the wonders of sensory experience within 9 months, a university student hopes for a job at the end of graduation, and blog writers hope their articles do well amongst the general public (hi there). We are imaginative animals and it is only natural that this way of thinking comes to us so readily; indeed, our neurobiology even rewards those who anticipate a reward with a bigger reward than the reward its self; that is, more dopamine is released when one anticipates a reward than when one receives the reward its self: a chemical reinforcement for those that think about happiness as a future yet to come.
This intuitive approach to happiness has its pros and cons, and neither the pros nor the cons are ever explicitly stated. If only life came with a manual, a 500-page paperback “how to”. Although there are no perfect manuals for life, we can still attempt to work out some of the problems that keep us exercised at night, the terrible worries of life that make our minds anxiously run.
Let us consider the cons, the risks, that are associated with the intuitive conception of happiness, especially those that are never explicitly declared. These risks roam the most unconscious parts of our mind, and it is up to each of us to light a path throughout our own unconscious, a path which illuminates and makes visible those pernicious unconscious risks. In doing so, we will bravely face the demons that, beyond all doubt, will tempt us to return to surface awareness and extinguish any semblance of light that we had shed onto the deeper reality of intuitive happiness. The acceptance of the potential to fail, the acceptance of the inevitable, and the shattering of delusions are all instances of such demons; these are things that the ignorant are ignorant of, and for good reason.
Intuitive Happiness: the dangers of
The pessimist is wise to acknowledge the horrendous aspects of existence; most certainly, there is a dreadfulness to being alive, and it has reared its ugly face in many of our lives at some time or another. The potential to fail, the potential to never experience the objects of our desire, the inability to achieve our goals: unpleasant, dreadful thoughts. Of course, the pessimist is not wise by virtue of his pessimism; rather, he is wise because he has recognized the possibilities which the optimist may be blind to, the unfavorable possibilities: failure, rejection, denial. It is these possibilities which are never explicitly declared when we have hope for some beautiful future; our utopian visions have an inherent defect: blinders.
When we are expecting some form of future happiness, like the birth of a child, there is very little pessimism or realism that accompanies our thoughts about the likelihood of success. Indeed, when I arrive home after a busy day and head to the kitchen to cook a delicious meal, there is nothing but sheer joy; it never occurs to me that there is a chance or possibility for failure. It is this potential to fail that intuitive happiness tends to ignore. This is fine for the most part, there need be no consideration about the potential to fail when cooking a meal, as such a potential is probably low anyway. However, when it regards something with slightly different odds, this is rather dangerous.
When we are terminally ill and have a low chance for survival, it would be delusional to expect that the odds are in our favor; and so, it would be a decision replete with the poorest of insight to place our happiness into the arms of life, especially with such unfavorable contingencies. Foolishly, one may say, “happy days will come yet again when sickness has succumbed to its end”; for to do so places our happiness blindly into a future which will not be arrived at: a happiness never to come. And so, the wise pessimist, here, will never place their happiness into the arms of life when the odds are so unfavorable, although it is, of course, the case that pessimists envision no happiness in any area of life. We shall not be this bleak, especially since too much pessimism is as equally nonsensical as too much optimism.
The realist acknowledges that there is a potential for our futures, as imagined, to never come; thus, they take into account the factors which will shift the probability of a given fate towards one direction or another. The realist, apriori, must accept the factors that will influence future happiness.
Some of the factors that influence the future, we must note, are also inevitabilities. To return to our gloomy example of those unfortunate illnesses that pave our fate into an inflexible cement path, let us consider Alzheimers. The family members of those who have, or are experiencing the early stages of, the creeping disease would be unwise to deny the progressive nature of the illness. To hope that a progressive illness progresses no longer, to hope that a doctor can cure an illness not sufficiently understood, or to pray for spontaneous improvements through the exercising of memory are all hopes that deny basic inevitabilities. There shall be no happiness found by hoping for things beyond either our power or the power of others. There are inevitabilities associated with such a predicament that cannot be denied, and to pray for a future that is free from the grips of Alzheimers and its influence is to seal one’s own future into a prison cell located in the desolate depths of Siberia: a cold future destined for sadness and despair. Those who place their happiness in the future will do best to recognize that some things are certain to happen.
When happiness is planted in the future, we must be aware that there are some limitations which must be acknowledged, that there are inevitabilities which will have no concern for our hope, and that there is a chance for our desired future to never arrive. If we act like the blind optimist, then those dangerous assumptions associated with future happiness will catch us with our pants around our ankles.
So what do we make of this? should we, as of now, cease our thinking about the future? Not quite. Hope, even with all its imperfections, is a humanity-wide prayer. It keeps us positive about the future by appealing to personal belief. Of course, evidence can inform hope as well, and when it does, we call it a “probability”. However, for those that are against the odds already, hope must be drawn from the depths of personal belief. Future happiness is a motivator for humans, and our struggles would be insurmountable without it; why fight a war to defend to weak when one thinks in only the present moment? what good will it do to defend the weak? the answer, though obvious to us, would be radically less obvious to an animal which lacks foresight entirely. Therefore, we shall conclude that future happiness is a necessary tool, but it must be approached with tact; one must be neither a capricious optimist nor a resentful pessimist but rather an adroit realist: in touch with reality.