The oft sought after guide to melancholy

19 02 2008

PlugsLast month, Eric G. Wilson released his book, “Against Happiness,” as an alternative to the recent trend in “secrets of finding happiness” books. In the book, Wilson says happy people “are apt to be bland, superficial, static, hollow, one-sided, bovine, acquisitive, deluded and foolish. Sold on the ideal of the happy smile and the cheerful salutation, they patrol the malls in dull uniformity, zombie-like, searching for contentment and pleasure, locked inside their own dreams of a secure and unblemished world, oblivious to objective reality, cocooned in a protective layer of bemused well-being.”

That should about do it for anyone who was feeling happy before reading this. But that’s not all. Wilson further advocates the importance of “dejection, questioning, restlessness, honesty, depth, pessimism, tragedy, complexity, vitality and a grasp of reality.” He argues that instead of constantly trying to find happiness, we should live through and experience both the suffering and the joy to be able to reach our lives’ potentials.

HappinessOf course, the point of “Against Happiness” is not to completely devalue the search for happiness. Instead, it hopes to show that dedicating your life to finding something that can’t simply be grabbed out of the sky won’t lead you to it. You have to take the difficult route through life’s trenches first and discover what happiness means to you. Some of the most productive, profound, and prodigious people to walk this planet used their suffering as a platform to take risks and create change.

“This book will change your mind, and maybe your life, with its pitiless account of the value of happiness and the price we Americans pay for pursuing it so compulsively. Almost every American claims to be happy, and yet we are a nation increasingly benumbed by drugs, opiated by messianic religion and buffed smooth by surgery, as we chase the illusions of perpetual youth, of life without death and joy without pain. This movingly written book may help us stand up before it’s too late and face our demons, by learning to love the melancholy realism and the creative powers that arise out of the darkness in our hearts.” — Richard Klein

All of these writers, of course, are being a bit over-dramatic, but I guess sometimes that is what it takes to make a point anymore.