Friday, April 30, 2010

Should Happiness Be the Goal?

It's been a while since I wrote about happiness, but it's a subject I think about and I used to write about a lot. All of my old posts on the subject assume one thing: that being happy is a worthy goal.

I wonder, though, if that's a faulty assumption. Or at least one that's specific to my cultural/generational circumstances.

Here's where this comes from: Ann Althouse wrote a post about a sociological study that found that women appear less happy when with their kids and parents than men do. She threw the link out there and didn't comment much, and there are all sorts of structural problems with the study and analysis that annoy me as a researcher. As science, it's worthless and squishy, but it's provocative anyway, from a philosophical perspective.

I was especially intrigued by this comment, written by a commenter - a woman with an admittedly Puritan-influenced upbringing - named Retriever:
I believe that loving one's family is more about service than always being happy. Happiness is something we are sometimes graced with along the way, but should not be the goal.
Huh. This was an eye-opener for me. I grew up in a family that valued hard work, but I always understood that the end goal of that work was happiness, not sacrifice. The happiness comes in part from the fruits of labor (the money you earn from your job pays for the boat you can sail with your family) and in part from the satisfaction of a job well done. But happiness was always the goal and I understood, even as a little girl, that work/family balance and finding work that's emotionally satisfying are both important.

Since I also didn't grow up in a family of decadent hedonists, it never occurred to me that happiness might not be a universal goal.

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