Happy without knowing it? The great paradox of happiness

A subjective and relative feeling

It is clear that happiness is a feeling that has reality only for those who experience it personally, in the first person: I’m the only one in a good position to know if I’m happy or not, without learning lessons, and it would be absurd even if anyone other than me claimed to be teaching me, or even having an opinion about the matter. In this sense, we can say of happiness that it has only subjective reality, that is, it does not exist objectively, but only in the subject experiencing it.

But besides being subjectivehappiness is also a feeling family member in the sense that it has degrees and can vary according to the circumstances: neither absolutely happy nor absolutely unhappy, we are usually in between, in other words more or less happy. By comparing our different states, we can situate ourselves on a scale capable of evaluating our level of happiness.

“He who has not tasted bitter things has not earned anything sweet, and will not even appreciate it. It is the law of joy that pleasure is not uniform because it causes disgust, makes us inert and not joyful”
GW Leibniz

The misfortune of the spoiled child

But it’s not enough to be at the top of this scale to be completely happy. For in order to enjoy one’s own happiness, must one not know misfortune, or rather have known it? This is what the optimist claims Leibniz when he defends the idea that suffering can be revealed as an instrument in favor of happiness and joy. In From the radical origin of things (1697), he writes: “He who has not tasted bitter things has not earned anything sweet, and will not even appreciate it. It is the law of joy that pleasure is not uniform, because it produces disgust, makes us inert and not joyful. † This is precisely the case of the spoiled child who, too accustomed to living comfortably and never having experienced want or misfortune, is unable to enjoy his well-being: he may even feel unhappy. , while his situation is very enviable in the eyes of those less favored than him, would be enough to make them happy.

But isn’t that what the actress who won the prize at the last Cannes Film Festival wanted to say very clearly, Zar Amir Ebrahimi, whose life, before taking refuge in France, was paradoxically difficult and painful? We French, notoriously cranky and depressed, would be ungrateful if we forgot our chance to live in a beautiful, free, civilized, rich and war-free country. Thus, despite the apparent paradox, it seems possible to be happy without realizing it.

Anything to be happy, so what?

One might answer him that it is not enough that the conditions objectives of happiness are (almost) united to guarantee happiness subjective We can have everything to be happy without being effective and even less mechanical. The reverse can even occur. Why ? For happiness is undoubtedly a matter of free and personal quest: if I get everything I need to be happy, I probably won’t be happy, or not so much, as if I had managed to achieve happiness on my own. conquer that not owed nor promised to me, but which I myself deserved and personally won. Worse! If I have everything to be happy, I may even blame myself for failing to be happy when I was destined to be…and this failure could make me very unhappy.

Conquer happiness in the distance or recognize the present happiness

Happiness therefore cannot already be given, it must be conquered, sought, found. At least this is the case for a certain kind of happiness that comes from self-satisfaction. That evoked by Zar Amir Ebrahimi is rather a present happiness that is not always easy to see, to recognize, even if it is there, before our eyes, as if we are insensitive to it. And in this case, it is not the eccentric point of view of an Iranian woman that will open our eyes, but simply the passage of time. For happiness is like love, freedom, health, wealth and youth: it is when they elude us that we feel in the most tragic way the happiness we had to possess them. We have to wait until we are robbed of them to realize afterwards what value they had to us. It is always too late to realize that we have been happy, as confirmed by this beautiful sentence attributed – no doubt incorrectly – to the poet Jacques Prévert: “I recognized happiness by the sound he made when he left. †

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