Plundering tradition for helpful tips

Cultures large and small always adopt helpful bits from outside and from what came before. Twas ever thus, so I wonder whether worries like the ones expressed below are a response to a meaningful shift in the way we explore our own and others’ traditions, or just expressions of an eternally present, eternally corrective complaint.

All things being equal, it is good to be happy, and it’s certainly awful to be severely depressed. But what worries me is that our pursuit of happiness is leading us to judge the great intellectual and spiritual traditions of the past according to only one measure: do they increase happiness and reduce misery? That which passes the test is plundered and that which fails is left behind. The result is that wisdom is hollowed out and replaced with a soft centre of caramelised contentment. […]

Those keen to adopt mindfulness training as a mere means to a happier life ignore the fact that the ideas Buddhists have traditionally wanted people to be mindful of are not necessarily comfortable ones, even if they ultimately lead the way to nirvana. Being mindful of the flavour of freshly brewed coffee or the beauty of a common sparrow is one thing; fostering awareness of the emptiness at the heart of the self quite another.

Aristotle is another ancient sage who has been watered down for the dulled palates of the modern positive thinker. He is frequently quoted as saying that happiness “is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence”. But, as any first-year undergraduate knows, the word translated here as happiness – “eudaimonia” – actually means something more like “flourishing”. Eudaimonia requires that we exercise the full range of our capacities as humans – especially, but not only, our intellects. The crude adoption of Aristotle as a champion of feeling good helps happiness flourish, while flourishing flounders.


from “The miserable results of our quest for happiness,” by Julian Baggini, Telegraph, 13 January 2010 :: via The Curator

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Add Your Comments