Happiness as an e ethereal and elusive yet constantly desirable concept has been the object of pursuit since the dawn of humankind. The phenomenon of happiness as a state of being has a special place in Western Philosophy. The subject matter has been explored by Kant, Tocqueville, Du Chatelet, and Freud. Although the concept of happiness was initially viewed as an unattainable state of being that cannot be reached due to the lack of clarity about nature thereof, the subject matter was gradually built to become a reachable state that can become a possibility after an in-depth self-analysis and introspect. Particularly, each of the philosophers mentioned above contributed to the representation of happiness as the state that can be ultimately achieved by recognizing its direct connection to one’s own illusory interpretation of the subject matter (as explained by Kant), the recognition of one’s agency in building happiness due to its being an illusion (as stated by Tocqueville and Du Chatelet), and, finally, using the concept of sublimation to explore one’s subconscious idea of happiness (as suggested by Freud), thus, achieving a balance between one’s desires and faculties, as Rousseau put it (Rohlf 220).
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A closer look at the transformations that the idea of happiness has experienced over different eras and being under the influence of different cultures and philosophies will reveal that it has been transformed from the unattainable to being purely subjective and, thus, convertible into a set of ideas and images that can be interpreted. Despite the fact that the specified stages might seem disjoint, they, in fact, serve as the foundation for building the path to achieving personal happiness. As strikingly opposite to each other, as some of the theories mentioned above might be, each of them provides the element that serves as a building block for creating a cohesive interpretation of happiness as both a social construct and an individual phenomenon.
For instance, the Kantian approach requires that happiness should be deemed as an illusion. Although one might see the role of the specified statement as destructive for the overall promotion of happiness in an individual, more detailed scrutiny thereof will show that the specified assumption leads to the interpretation of happiness as a purely subjective idea (Bueno 5). Therefore, the role of illusion in happiness should be deemed as critical toward achieving the specified stat.
Similarly, both Tocqueville and Du Chatelet argue that imagination plays a crucial role in determining the degree of one’s happiness (McDaid and Cooper 19). Thus, the philosophers enable one to build one’s own happiness, thus, increasing the role of an individual as an agent. It could be argued that the specified interpretation stands in sharp contrast to the assumption made by Kant, i.e., the idea that happiness is an illusion. However, instead of developing the idea of happiness as something that cannot be attained, the vision of Tocqueville suggests building happiness based on the elements that are typically attributed to it (Gragg 291). The specified point aligns with Rousseau’s concept of happiness, which implies locating a balance between one’s desires and needs (Rohlf 221).
Similarly, the idea of happiness represented by Du Chatelet implies that the notion can be created based on the illusory assumptions of an individual. Furthermore, Du Chatelet takes the argument even further and states that happiness as an illusion is a crucial and indispensable element of a person’s life since it allows one to sustain the required attitudes and, therefore, remain satisfied. According to Du Chatelet, there are several elements that constitute the recipe for happiness, and susceptibility to illusions is only one of them.
Apart from the latter, virtuousness, the ability to free one’s mind from prejudices, physical and mental well-being, and the presence of tastes and passions are listed among the essential components of being happy (Ridley 117). Furthermore, Du Chatelet states explicitly that illusions are not to be confused with errors; instead, they should be viewed as the means of viewing the information that would otherwise be interpreted as negative. Despite the fact that the idea of introducing illusions into one’s perception of reality can be considered rather dangerous for the further successful functioning in the society, the identified elements are evidently interpreted by Du Chatelet and Tocqueville as the foundation for one’s emotional well-being.
The personal interpretation of happiness and the engagement in a meta-analysis of one’s emotional development, as well as one’s understanding of happiness, is, however, the most important stage toward achieving happiness according to Freud. As a detailed overview of the theorist’s works shows, Freud placed a heavy emphasis on the analysis of sublimation as the key to understanding the ways of achieving personal happiness. Particularly, sublimation plays the role of the markers that allow determining the factors contributing to one’s emotional satisfaction. It should be noted, though, that Freud was rather pessimistic in his definition of happiness; similarly to Kant, he believed that the specified state cannot be achieved, as Valdre explains: “Civilization and Its Discontents was judged as a bitter work, tinged with a sort of irreducible Freudian pessimism: happiness, when all is said and done, is impossible for a human being” (Valdre 27). However, it could be argued that the use of subconscious images and ideas can become the tool for understanding one’s needs and desires. Therefore, sublimation plays a paramount role in the process of seeking and achieving happiness as the ultimate state of feeling satisfied, accomplished, and emotionally comfortable.
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While the idea of happiness was initially interpreted as the state desired by many yet identifiable by none, it slowly transformed into the state that can be achieved with a thorough and detailed analysis of one’s self, including one’s desires and wishes. Thus, the interpretation of happiness passed the stages of being viewed as the figment of imagination to the illusion created by an individual to the sublimation of one’s own needs. The identified change can be explained by the fact that the philosophy of happiness slowly evolved from a set of generalized ideas toward an individual analysis and a personal interpretation of the subject matter.
As a result, the foundation for creating an in-depth assessment of one’s personal needs has been created. The journey made by the philosophy of happiness allows concluding that the subject matter is not only attainable but also essential to one’s well-being. Therefore, imagination, illusion, and sublimation play a crucial role in the pursuit of happiness since they allow one pass from the stage of identifying one’s own concept of personal happiness (i.e., using the Freudian interpretation thereof) to recognizing one’s own agency in creating premises for being happy (i.e., applying Tocqueville ideas), and, finally, to preventing external factors form affecting one’s ability to remain happy (i.e., viewing happiness as an illusion). Each of the concepts contributes to engaging in a profound analysis of one’s perception of happiness and, hence, leads to the ultimate experience of happiness.
Bueno, Alexander J. The Logicist Tribulation of Sophia: Book Two: Recuperation of the Theological Ethics of Happiness versus Logicism and Phil-Ideology. Strategic Book Publishing & Rights Agency, 2014.
Gragg, Rod. The Pilgrim Chronicles: An Eyewitness History of the Pilgrims and the Founding of Plymouth Colony. Regnery Publishing, 2014.
McDaid, David, and Cary L. Cooper. Wellbeing: A Complete Reference Guide, Economics of Wellbeing. John Wiley & Sons, 2014.
Ridley, Matt. The Evolution of Everything: How Small Changes Transform Our World. HarperCollins UK, 2015.
Rohlf, Micheal. The Modern Turn. CUA Press, 2017.
Valdre, Rossella. On Sublimation: A Path to the Destiny of Desire, Theory, and Treatment. Karnac Books, 2014.