Is it not an incontestable idea that the cultivation of happiness within oneself and amongst others should be the highest aim of humanity? The short answer is ‘no’. The medium length answer is as follows:
Let us not quibble over what is meant by ‘happiness’ here. There is no unit of happiness, and why would there ever be an everlasting consensus on what it is to be happy within one person, let alone across us all? Yet we somehow manage day to day without using the word as if it were foreign terminology.
You see, I have my axe to grind, which may or may not yet be apparent, and I am tired of certain routes to happiness being held up as standards of truth or reality. The most common is being told how a faith, a belief in something more, can even be statistically proven to improve mood, health and life expectancy. Statistics. That’s almost maths, if not quite science.
So, I am often told, belief in meaning to life beyond human exigencies, a plan, or a reward system, including, but not limited to, eternal incorporeal joy; reunion with departed loved ones; possibilities of forgiveness or repentance or expiation; renunciation of pain, and trial, as ephemeral, even transcendent; a system of rules to live by, a caste of helpful, if surprisingly privileged and fractious, fellows to interpret those rules by, sparing our wayward little heads the trouble of doing it ourselves; all this can lead to reduced levels of worry, and perhaps free one from the anxieties that may otherwise plague us and foreshorten out mortal existence.
I nod sagely, wondering if perhaps my standards of truth are too high. Did I abandon mathematics before truth equalled whatever we wanted to believe? Of course, I do not nod sagely, I, in fact, nod off. Happiness is a noble wish, but what price if bought with wide-eyed delusion? We want so much to believe those things that please us, but could anything be more dangerous?
The most useful child of scepticism is: test your beliefs, wage war on them, denounce them from every angle, flay their skins and split their bones. If they yet stand, if they do not melt beneath your withering contempt, then perhaps they deserve a place in a foundation of your happiness. It is no fault of mine if hovels are all that stand upon them.