Friday, April 15, 2011

All the World an Asylum, and We are Merely Patients

All the world an asylum, and we are merely patients.
We are slowly going crazy.  Since this loss of sanity has been going on since 1938, we must have had large surplus at the start of the trend.  Either that, or we truly in the madhouse: thus the liberties with Shakespeare.
We will begin our discussion at:
Is Happiness Overrated, Shirley S. Wang, Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2011.
[S]ymptoms of depression, paranoia and psychopathology have increased among generations of American college students from 1938 to 2007, according to a statistical review published in 2010 in Clinical Psychology Review. Researchers at San Diego State University who conducted the analysis pointed to increasing cultural emphasis in the U.S. on materialism and status, which emphasize hedonic happiness, and decreasing attention to community and meaning in life, as possible explanations.

We have discussed narcissism previously at length.  Apparently narcissists are not particularly sane people, nor particularly happy.  That is unfortunate. If you could trade off happiness for sanity, you could at least weigh your options.  You might also be better able to judge whom to listen to based on the sourness of their disposition.

The apparent problem is that our cultural trends, possibly in parallel with the growth of the mass entertainment industry of the 20th century, has tended to emphasis temporary euphoria, over meaning and content. 

In the article the sense of temporary euphoria, the type that comes with a victory by your favorite sports team,  is referred to as “hedonic well-being.”   It tends not to last very long.  Hedonic derives from the classical Greek word for “delight”.

The sense of well being that comes with a purposeful and engaging life is referred to as eudaimonic well-being.  Eudaimonic (sometimes anglicized as eudemonic) is Greek for happiness.  But the term also implies other concepts:  from Wikipedia:

Eudaimonia" is a central concept in ancient Greek ethics, along with the term "arete", most often translated as "virtue", and phronesis, often translated as "practical or moral wisdom.    In classical Greek, eudaimonia was used as a term for the highest human good, and so it became the aim of practical philosophy, including ethics and political philosophy, to consider what it really is and how it can be achieved.

Stoic philosophy, believed that eudaimonia which predates and appears to have been the basis for the good life.  To some degree, these stoics appear to have had an influence on the Greek speaking communities of early Christians.  According to the Stoics, virtue is necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia.  They emphasized justice, honesty, moderation, simplicity, self-discipline, resolve, fortitude, and courage.  Although they would not have emphasized the Judean-Christian concepts of mercy, forgiveness, self-abasement/self-sacrifice, charity, they are not entirely foreign to Stoicism either.

Our modern culture emphasis very little of this.  The emphasis is to live for happiness within the present:  not awareness within the moment.  As Frost said:  The present/ Is too much for the senses,/Too crowding, too confusing/ Too present to imagine.

Stoicism, and Zen both have a live in the moment quality to them.  But they push toward having a balance of understanding and awareness within that moment.  Zen in particular can have that sense of thoughtlessness/emersion as you are totally absorbed within the current sense of time and place.  But that is very different from seeking endless temporary euphoria through external stimuli. 

The euphoria or contentment is generated within, and does not require anything outside oneself.  If you require something outside of yourself for your wellbeing:  than your wellbeing can be taken away.

Carpe Diem
Robert Frost

Age saw two quiet children
Go loving by at twilight,
He knew not whether homeward,
Or outward from the village,
Or (chimes were ringing) churchward,
He waited, (they were strangers)
Till they were out of hearing
To bid them both be happy.
"Be happy, happy, happy,
And seize the day of pleasure."
The age-long theme is Age's.
'Twas Age imposed on poems
Their gather-roses burden
To warn against the danger
That overtaken lovers
From being overflooded
With happiness should have it.
And yet not know they have it.
But bid life seize the present?
It lives less in the present
Than in the future always,
And less in both together
Than in the past. The present
Is too much for the senses,
Too crowding, too confusing-
Too present to imagine.

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