What is Happiness – By Joshua Bayer

The Dalai Lama once said that, “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” To him, this is what happiness meant, to others there might be something else. It is difficult for anybody to decide what true happiness is, because everyone differs in one way or another. The Dalai Lama though, had the right impression when he said that “Happiness is not something ready-made”, because it takes someone who has lived through failure to realize it. That is why, from a logical, aesthetic, metaphysical and an epistemological standpoint, one might be able to understand that true happiness can only be achieved by realizing triumph through failure.

Firstly, it is known that through experience, one gains both wisdom and knowledge; skills that will ultimately bring a person happiness, but that can only be achieved through constant failures. Logic is the ability to use reasoning and rational thought, along with wisdom and knowledge to apply to different scenarios. For those who enhance these abilities, several opportunities open up for them in life; opportunities that can ultimately bring the person joy and success. It is a practice brought forth throughout humanity since our ancient ancestors, who discovered fire through their logic and were able to progress their society far beyond human imagination. It is unlikely though, that these feats that have been passed down through generations could have been achieved without first failing. There were people throughout our past, (geniuses of their time) whom could never have reached the level of intelligences they had if not for learning from their previous failings. For example, it is a fact that William Shakespeare, (a man renowned for his brilliance over the English language and historical landmarks on literature) was at times, at a loss for words when writing. Yet his failure to write a certain word led him to creating his own; words that even to this day are used as common English. Had he been able to find the exact word he was looking for, without making a single error in thought, he would have not felt as achieved over the feat of creating something of such value.

One might believe a proper argument against this thought process might be that repeated failure can lead to stress, thus diminishing logic along with happiness. Though this is a rational argument, it can be easily dismissed, as to have logic, is to be rational, thus if there is repeated failure, one must consider new options, apply their wisdom and above all, use their mistakes to solve the problem. If anything, achieving what they had sought after, only after failing so many times, would make the victory all the sweeter. There is no doubt that a person wouldn’t be happy with themselves after achieving such a feat.

Much like logical thought, happiness can also be found in art; art that, through many failings, became what the artist intended it to be. Art, no matter what kind, surrounds people throughout their lives. It is seen in the paintings we view, the music we hear and the sculptures we touch, all constantly bombarding us with aesthetical beauty. They inspire joy and sorrow, laughter and melancholy, but by simply just existing, they make those who regard their existence, feel the emotions they portray. Many times, what the artist intends to create is not what others see; where the artist intends for it to be seen as life after death, others might see the darkness that resides in us all. The message may have failed to come across exactly the way the artist may have intended it to, but that does exclude the fact that meaning was interpreted, and their art had still inspired feelings in their audience. They will push past these failures, work harder, create new pieces; some will succeed in creating the feelings the artist intended them to, others will fail, but it is through such failures that only the greatest of art can be created. A great example of this can be seen through the story of the great artist, Vincent Van Gogh. During his period of time, Vincent was a striving artist, trying to make something of himself. Oddly enough, the paintings that society renown’s as some of the greatest masterpieces in history, were considered no more than children’s scribbles to the people of Gogh’s days. The paintings he made back then, (regarded as they may be today) were absolute failures to both him and the people who beheld them. Though had he given up after one failure, nothing would have become of him in this modern age. His early suicide at such a young age shows just how profound he regarded each of his paintings, and it can be said that had he known what masterpieces they would have become today and the feelings they inspired, that all those failings would have been worth something, leaving him only with happiness. He is only a single example of what failure can do to an artist. The past and all the mistakes one makes, creates the most beautiful things; turmoil’s and loss, as well as things that could have been said or done, all these types of failures, have, and can, create the most beautiful of things. A rapper will rap of their nightmares as they grew up in the ghetto, recounting the fears they felt and the mistakes they made. An artist will draw the darkness within them, and the past they must confront to realize their future. All these things are trials that led them to creating some of the most beautiful things, maybe not to some, but surely to themselves.

One might consider the process to reaching this art to be pointless, and that happiness could never be found through beating those odds. That may be true for some art, (the one’s that took little to no effort to make) but real art, (the one’s that inspire the feelings of happiness for those who created it, and even those who embrace it) will always be the ones that overcome the huge obstacle and beat the odds.

Now looking through a metaphysical lens, one might inquire that it is human nature to fail, and that because the ability to succeed is not, it brings people a great deal of happiness to overcome this nature. From birth, until the end of a person’s life, they will receive many trials and with them many failures. People, no matter how skilled or knowledgeable they may be, will always fail at times. This does not imply weakness, it actually shows the contrary; it builds strength and character. One might consider that failure is a crippling factor for the human race, and that it would be better off if no one could fail. This is an incorrect standpoint towards the progression of humanity. Consider the following: the invention of penicillin was a complete scientific accident. Yet, had this mistake not occurred, penicillin may not have been discovered at all. If society could never make mistakes, not only would their humanity be robbed, but their happiness as well. Take an example from the pop culture show, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, a show based on the life of a teenage girl with magical powers. In one of the later episodes, Sabrina decides that after making many mistakes at her workplace that she no longer wanted to fail ever again. So in an effort to do so, she cast a spell on herself that allowed her to never make a mistake again; to be perfect. But her perfection was short lived, as she soon learnt the error in her spell. What she had done was removed any chance of making a mistake, thus ceasing her learning curve from that point on. Without the ability to make an error, she had lost her empathy for others who made mistakes and became something of a social pariah. With this sudden realization, she decided that the best course of action was that she needed to make mistakes once more and quickly began to rehabilitate herself in her naturally humanistic ways. While this is not an accurate representation of what the world would be like if everyone was perfect, it still shows the profound effect that failure has on human nature.

One might believe that succeeding on the first try would make them happier and they may be right; there is a certain level of satisfaction that comes with doing something right the first time. But what they may not have considered is that there is an even greater satisfaction that comes from defeating the odds when they’re not in their favor. A great example of this is a difficult video game. While some people enjoy beating the game and moving on, a majority of the people play for the enriched experience. If, in a scenario where the main villain of the game was easily defeated on the first try, the amount of satisfaction gained would be minimal. On the other hand, had that boss defeated the heroin multiple times previously, creating the illusion of being unbeatable, than the victory would be all the sweeter. Because it is human nature to be defeated, there is no greater happiness, than proving those previous failures wrong.

As a final point, it is to be considered that the pursuit of knowledge may in fact be one of the most difficult ways to achieve happiness, as it proves to have the most failures, but the results of achieving success, even through these failures, makes the feat all the sweeter. It is well known that in the endless pursuit of knowledge, failure is something of a norm amongst those pursuing it. Scientists, mathematicians and especially philosophers deal with failure every day, as they must always have more wrong answers than right. For most people, this is the exact definition of unhappiness; constant failure with no results, but to some, these failures are merely a challenge. Had every scientist and philosopher who came across a tough question with a difficult answer, just got up and left it alone because it was “too tough”, than to this day, civilization may still be trying to discover fire by looking up at the sky and dreaming. This is the main reason why the pursuit of knowledge is so important to living life with true happiness; answering an almost unthinkable question will bring the ultimate happiness. Take this scenario for example: if, since the beginning of time, all people on earth knew that God indeed, and without a doubt, existed in the sky, then no questions could be asked. If people were utterly aware of God’s existence, then there would be no need to ask questions and people would just live their lives without wonder, without a question in their mind as to why things are the way they are. Someone might ask the question, “why are we here?” and the answer would be, because God put us here, and that would be it. There was no thought, no reasoning, just an answer. The emptiness that civilization would be left with is incredible. Yet change the scenario to one where that question has no answer until the person discovers it, and that when it is, they will be happy. This thought process is seen in its entirety, all throughout the world; amongst religions most of all. Religious factions want nothing more than to realize God in the afterlife, which is the essence of happiness to them, but at the same time, proves that happiness can only be found through constant failure. Their beliefs will never be backed up, so they are technically failing to prove God’s existence every time, thus in reaching the afterlife, they will prove it, therefor finally realizing success and happiness. These questions are essential if humanity is to stay happy, because if all of them were found, than civilization might as well surrender their happiness right away.

To conclude all that has been said, it is evident that the only true way to realize happiness is by understanding that failure is to be logical, it is the art people create, the knowledge civilization pursues and an essential characteristic that makes people who they are. The Dalai Lama is an intelligent man for saying that “happiness is not something ready-made” as the essence of happiness cannot be found so easily. One must live to be happy, they must experience and grow. To forget the mistakes of the past, and to avoid mistakes in the future, will only cripple humanity and leave it in the dust. To embrace them, learn from them and live life with each one working along-side one’s self, will only make them stronger. Live with failure, and succeed because of it.