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March 14, 2011 / Man in the Mirror

Byronic Unhappiness

It is common in our day, as it has been in many other periods of the world’s history, to suppose that those among us who are wise have seen through all the enthusiasms of earlier times and have become aware that there is nothing to live for. The men who hold this view are genuinely unhappy, but they are proud of their unhappiness, which they attribute to the nature of the universe and consider to be the only rational attitude for an enlightened man. Their pride in their unhappiness makes less sophisticated people suspicious of its genuineness: they think that the man who enjoys being miserable is not miserable. This view is too simple.

The truth is that they are unhappy for some reason of which they are aware, and this unhappiness leads them to dwell upon the less agreeable characteristics of the world in which they live.

Mr. Joseph Wood Krutch, from a book called “The Modern Temper”:
“Ours is a lost cause and there is no place for us in the natural universe, but we are not, for all that, sorry to be human. We should rather dies as men than live as animals”.

Byron:
“There’s not a joy the world can give like that it takes away, When the glow of early thought declines in feeling’s dull decay.”

One must distinguish between a mood and its intellectual expression. There is no arguing with a mood; it can be changed by some fortunate event, or by a change in our bodily condition, but it cannot be changed by argument.

The mere absence of effort from a human’s life removes an essential ingredient of happiness. The man who acquires easily things for which he feels only a very moderate desire concludes the attainment of desire does not bring happiness. He forgets that to be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.

The habit of looking to the future and thinking that the whole meaning of the present lies in what it will bring forth is a pernicious one. There can be no value in the whole unless there is value in the parts. Life is not to be conceived on the analogy of a melodrama in which the hero and heroine go through incredible misfortunes for which they are compensated by a happy ending.

We are at the present day passing through a somewhat confused period, when many people have thrown over the old standards without acquiring new ones. This leads them into various troubles, and as their unconscious usually still believes in the old standards, the troubles, when they come, produce, despair, remorse, and cynicism.

The reasons which lead certain persons to cynicism are connected with the tyranny of the old ideals over the unconscious, and with the absence of a rational ethics by which present-day people can regulate their conduct. The cure lies not in lamentation and nostalgia for the past, but in a more courageous acceptance of the modern outlook and a determination to root out nominally discarded superstitions from all their obscure hiding places.

Love is to be valued in the first instance-and this, though not its greatest value, is essential to all the rest-as in itself a source of delight.

And not only is love a source of delight, but its absence is a source of pain. In the second place, love is to be valued because it enhances all the best pleasure, such as music, and sunrise in mountains, and the sea under the full moon. A man who has never enjoyed beautiful things in the company of a woman whom he loved has not experienced to the full the magic power of which such things are capable. Again: love is able to breakdown the hard shell of the ego, since it is a form of biological cooperation in which the emotions of each are necessary to the fulfillment of the other’s instinctive purposes.

Man depends upon cooperation, and has been provided by nature, somewhat inadequately it is true, with the instinctive apparatus out of which the friendliness required for cooperation can spring. Love is the first and commonest form of emotion leading to cooperation, and those who have experienced love with any intensity will not be content with a philosophy that supposes their highest good to be independent of that of the person loved. In this respect parental feeling is even more powerful, but parental feeling at its best is the result of love between the parents.

The cosmic significance of an individual death is lost to us because we have become democratic, not only in outward forms but in our inmost convictions. High tragedy in the present day, therefore, has to concern itself rather with the community than with the individual.

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