In Response to @JDBentley's "The Purpose of Life is to be Happy"

JD Bentley recently (well, two months ago) wrote a post with which I vehemently disagree. Now, for the record, JD is a wonderful writer. I’m a subscriber to his site (you should be, too) and I enjoy his posts immensely. That said, I think he has this happiness thing all wrong.

He begins this particular post by refuting an idea from the Dalai Lama, that “the purpose of our lives is to be happy.” JD’s refutation of that notion is this: “Not only does happiness being the purpose of life sound ridiculously vague and simplistic, it also sounds selfish and shallow.”

The vague nature of happiness is entirely the point. In fact, were happiness not so vague, it would also be far less valuable. The notion of happiness reminds me of the ultimate and age-old question regarding the meaning of life. Indeed, perhaps the two are one and the same. Neither can be called objective- what makes me happy, what gives me meaning may be monotonous drivel to you, and vice versa. Happiness is perhaps the most subjective experience of all, and it’s this very characteristic that gives it its inherent value. As a wedding ring given to a young girl by her dying grandmother holds more value to that girl than the rest of the world, so the value of our happiness is ours, and ours alone. The question of happiness or meaning is a misleading one, because in and of their own right, those concepts don’t exist. Meaning (read: happiness) is a thing to be created, not an objective truth. As for the “selfish and shallow” bit, I’ll get to that.

JD goes on to say:

The purpose of life is a struggle for completeness. It has little to do with your emotions or your well-being. It’s about your character and your essence. You will have joyous experiences and sorrowful experiences, relaxed experiences and tiring experiences, all conspiring to build you up into wholeness.

We’ve all known miserable people, and few of us would gladly spend a day with someone who seems to be in constant anguish. After all, misery loves company. It is indeed infectious. So, too, is a positive personality, and it is these with whom we prefer to spend our time. It’s simply human nature to prefer the presence of positive people. Given that you accept this truth, who could be called the more complete person? Person A, full of despair, or Person B, full of life? Nietzsche was an intellectual giant of his time, wildly accomplished, and yet I doubt he would have described himself as complete. Thoreau, on the other hand, would probably have no trouble describing himself as such, having devoted an enormous amount of his time to personal growth, after which he emerged a tremendously happy person. Both had tremendous character. Only one may be called complete. To commit to presenting the most complete version of yourself to those who choose to spend time with you seems neither selfish nor shallow.

The post ends with this:

We are a generation unwilling to hear such an answer, though. We’re more concerned with feeling good and being told it’s okay to feel good, whether or not it’s actually beneficial for us.

Feeling good is not the point.

Here, again, the very definition of happiness needs to be questioned. To confuse happiness with “feeling good” is, in my mind, intellectually dishonest. Were that the case, a few drinks would induce the optimum state of man. To feel good does not equate to being happy. In fact, the happiest people I know are not those who string together the most possible joyous experiences while eliminating as many negative experiences as possible. No, the happiest people are those who not only accept sorrows as inevitable, but embrace them as a mere link in the chain of life- a stimulus for reflection and growth. On his last point, I agree completely. Feeling good is not the point.

Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence. ~ Aristotle