On the happiness of God – Leszek Kolakowski in NYRB, 2012:
‘Some theologians have argued that we can speak of God only by negation: by saying what He is not. Similarly, perhaps we cannot know what Nirvana is and can only say what it is not. Yet it is hard to be satisfied with mere negation; we would like to say something more. And assuming that we are allowed to say something about what it is to be in the state of Nirvana, the hardest question is this: Is a person in this state aware of the world around him? If not—if he is completely detached from life on earth—what kind of reality is he a part of? And if he is aware of the world of our experience, he must also be aware of evil, and of suffering. But is it possible to be aware of evil and suffering and still be perfectly happy?’
‘Both Buddhism and Christianity suggest that the ultimate liberation of the soul is also perfect serenity: total peace of the spirit. And perfect serenity is tantamount to perfect immutability. But if my spirit is in a state of immutability, so that nothing can influence it, my happiness will be like the happiness of a stone. Do we really want to say that a stone is the perfect embodiment of salvation and Nirvana? Since being truly human involves the ability to feel compassion, to participate in the pain and joy of others, the young Siddhartha could have been happy, or rather could have enjoyed his illusion of happiness, only as a result of his ignorance. In our world that kind of happiness is possible only for children, and then only for some children: for a child under five, say, in a loving family, with no experience of great pain or death among those close to him. Perhaps such a child can be happy in the sense that I am considering here. Above the age of five we are probably too old for happiness. We can, of course, experience transient pleasure, moments of wonderment and great enchantment, even ecstatic feelings of unity with God and the universe; we can know love and joy. But happiness as an immutable condition is not accessible to us, except perhaps in the very rare cases of true mystics.’
‘Must we, then, accept Schopenhauer’s dismal doctrine that all pleasant feelings are purely negative, namely the absence of pain? Not necessarily. There is no reason to maintain that the things we experience as good—aesthetic delight, erotic bliss, physical and intellectual pleasure of all kinds, enriching conversation, and the love of friends—must all be seen as pure negation. Such experiences strengthen us; they make us spiritually healthier. But they cannot do anything about either malum culpae or malum poenae—evil or suffering.
There are, of course, people who consider themselves happy because they are successful: healthy and rich, lacking nothing, respected (or feared) by their neighbors. Such people might believe that their life is what happiness is. But this is merely self-deception; and even they, from time to time at least, realize the truth. And the truth is that they are failures like the rest of us.
An objection could be raised here. If we have absorbed true wisdom of the higher sort, we might believe, like Alexander Pope, that whatever is, is right; or, like Leibniz, that we dwell in the best of all logically possible worlds. And if in addition to accepting something like this intellectually, in addition, that is, to simply believing that all must be right with the world because it is under the constant guidance of God, we also feel in our hearts that this is so, and experience the splendor, goodness, and beauty of the universe in our daily life, then can we not be said to be happy? The answer is: no, we cannot.
Happiness is something we can imagine but not experience. If we imagine that hell and purgatory are no longer in operation and that all human beings, every single one without exception, have been saved by God and are now enjoying celestial bliss, lacking nothing, perfectly satisfied, without pain or death, then we can imagine that their happiness is real and that the sorrows and suffering of the past have been forgotten. Such a condition can be imagined, but it has never been seen. It has never been seen.
—Translated from the Polish by Agnieszka Kołakowska’
Read the article here.
Can you be aware of other people’s suffering and be happy? Yes, because other people’s suffering is also a source of happiness.
Perhaps happiness is a state of divine ignorance.
The absence of pain is not enough for happiness, unless you experienced severe pain twenty minutes ago, then the absence of pain can be a source of happiness for a limited period of time.
It’s unclear to me how we should value happiness. Although in our culture happiness and success appear to be closely connected, as is also remarked in this article. Happiness is the proof of your success. The truly successful have conquered pain.