May 27, 2008
In the recently published "Against Happiness,"
popular writer Eric Wilson disparages our current love affair
with putting on a happy face. With our "feel good"
culture and the widespread use of happy drugs, everybody's
trying to be cheerful and there are no decent dollops of
melancholy and sadness, he says. When this happens, art
becomes bland, unchallenging and redundant. Dr. Thomas Svolos
of the department of Psychiatry at Creighton University School
of Medicine thinks Wilson is right. "When you're
melancholy, you tend to step back and examine your life,"
he says. "That kind of questioning is essential for
What these guys are talking about is a redefinition of
happiness, and I think they're onto something. Life's not
about getting free of pain, but rather finding happiness
through service to some process with links to a higher ideal.
A state of thoughtful melancholy and sensitivity breeds an
elevated creativity and a more profound happiness. Here are a
few of my own keys:
Work alone and be your own motivator.
Take time for private wandering and nature's gifts.
Dig around and explore purposefully.
Serve others as well as your own passions.
Look for potential in all things and all beings.
Face life's deeper meanings squarely and truthfully.
Move through thoughtful understanding to pervasive action.
Know you are partner in a great brotherhood and sisterhood.
Accept sadness as part of the human condition.
Know that in the big picture you are not important, but what
you make and do is.
Currently, 11 percent of American women and 5 percent of
American men take antidepressants, the magazine Scientific
American reported in February. A high percentage are
prescribed ad hoc by family doctors, without benefit of
thorough analysis. Does anyone prescribe a host of golden
daffodils, a mountain stream, or a robin's nest on which to
contemplate? Perhaps it's too "do it yourself" and
non-profit to be considered. But it seems to me that's where
happiness lies and dreams are made. Just try painting that
nest. It's a spiritual act, loaded with joy. "The
world," said Robert Louis Stevenson, "is so full of
a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as
PS: "The overemphasis of drugs is a knee-jerk reaction
that's thrown our whole concept of happiness out of whack.
Happiness is now seen as a lack of suffering as opposed to
accomplishing important societal goals, like creating
art." (Thomas Svolos)
Esoterica: Much has been made of the connection between full
blown clinical depression and creativity. We have Beethoven,
van Gogh, Georgia O'Keeffe, Sylvia Plath, and so many others.
Their cases are the extremes and have not much to do with the
normal healthy understanding of the mystery of our existence
and the daily trials of life. Garden variety melancholics also
carry the torch of happiness.