If you want to be happy, stop trying to be happy.
In contemporary culture, we understand happiness very differently than in ages past. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts at Ethics for Everyone, (here and here), happiness in its classical sense meant something different than it does to our modern ears. A quick survey of dictionary definitions of happiness turns up the following contemporary understanding of happiness:
“pleasure, joy, delight…an active or passive state of pleasure or pleasurable satisfaction” (Dictionary.com)
“a pleasurable or satisfying experience” (Merriam-Webster.com)
“feeling, showing or causing pleasure or satisfaction” (Cambridge Dictionaries Online)
“It may be seriously questioned whether the advent of modern communications media has much enhanced our understanding of the world in which we live.”
This statement does not come from a contemporary critic of blogs, texting, and social media. Rather, it is from the 1940 classic by Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book. We may know more about the world today—including mere facts and trivia—but we don’t think very deeply about much of this, often accepting pre-packaged opinions rather than working through ideas ourselves or in discussion with a few other people.
I am not a fundamentalist, but I am a Christian. I’m also a philosophy professor at a state university. And I agree with David Niose that anti-intellectualism is a very deep problem in America. (I also agree with Ravi Chandra, as I believe that another major issue is the rampant self-centeredness present in our culture.) Here I’d like to give my perspective on issues related to anti-intellectualism. It is connected to some fundamentalisms, but the problem is much deeper and more widespread in our society.
We may read more now than in the past. We read a lot of blog posts, tweets, and the like. We may read a few books, too. But we don’t read enough complex books, and we don’t read well.