Behind the Happiness Paradox

Are we doomed to be unhappier, the more that we know? Does that mean that ignorance is bliss or that wanting to be happy make us unhappy? These are questions most of us have probably heard at some point in our lives. If that is indeed the case you have probably also noticed that even though on the surface the questions seem simple they are not as black and white as they seem. Often times we are confronted with their paradoxical nature.

Does wanting to be happy make us unhappy?

By now, we know that happiness is thought of as a state of mind. Not only that; more importantly, it is a well-balanced state of mind. Generally speaking, it consists of the good and the bad. Therefore, contrary to popular belief, we shouldn’t strive directly for happiness. It seems to be a product of consistent behaviour. It requires effort to be maintained. Maybe we confuse happiness with pleasure in the short run. That when we think we are striving for happiness it is actually pleasure, even if it might contribute to our happiness.

Pleasure - Pain - Happiness.png

Looking at this visualization, it is definitely oversimplified but helps bring the point across. Yes, you can live a life largely made up of pleasure or pain. But that is all it will be for the most part. Those that are in a position of (great) wealth can do a lot of pleasurable things or experiences. Quite often an abundance of pleasure is mistaken for happiness. Possibly, this might explain why some who seem to have it all can still feel so unfulfilled. The point is that having a life with one extreme or the other will not lead to long-term happiness. In order to maintain a healthy state of happiness, we need to find a balance of pleasure and pain. When it comes to our experiences, whether they are pleasurable or painful, quantity and degree are interchangeable. In other words, four small pleasurable activities can be equally valuable as one large pleasurable activity.

There is also a notable difference between doing activities that you think will make you happier vs experiences that are fulfilling. It comes down to doing activities because of their intrinsic value rather than using them as a means to an end. Funnily enough, the saying ‘it’s the journey, not the destination’ sums up this point quite well.

Is ignorance bliss?

Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.

― Ernest Hemingway, The Garden of Eden

To a certain extent, it seems so because constantly monitoring our feelings actually makes us unhappy. Therefore, we shouldn’t constantly check to see if we are happy. When it comes to intelligence, why is it often said that the two do not go together? If we quickly glance at this we can say that the more intelligent we are the more skeptical we become. We start to question everything and try to understand the workings behind everything around us. Even though this is a great quality to have, it clashes with the idea that to be happy one should not try too hard to achieve it. There seems to be more to it than you would think at first. Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at this topic.


“You can’t be happy unless you’re unhappy sometimes.”

― Lauren Oliver, Delirium


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