Against Happiness by Jim Holt

Topics: Happiness, The New York Times, The New Yorker Pages: 3 (977 words) Published: April 12, 2005
Jim Holt fails to label happiness as yet another social evil in "Against Happiness", an essay in the sunday magazine of the New York Times from June 20, 2004. In this essay Holt argues that: "Sad people are nice. Angry people are nasty. And, oddly enough, happy people tend to be nasty, too." This presents an intriguing, counterintuitive argument to his readers, and while this is definitely

an intresting argument
to engage in, Holt falls short of convincing me of happiness' darkside. Sometimes he seems to just be rambling- this piece feels more like a discussion than an argument , many times in the essay he reports evidence which may be convincing, if it wasn't immediately deflated by counter evidence or the author's own cautiousness, and worst of all, the report used to support his otherwise irresitable thesis, doesn't support it at all.

The appeal in "Against Happiness" seems to be purely emotional. It seems that Holt belives that if the reader questions happiness enough, and gets sideways enough about the definition of happiness, they might be confused and paranoid enough to start beliving that maybe, possibly, if happiness were like that, and if happy people might do that, then I guess it may be possible that happiness could be bad in a certain circumstance. According to Holt's research, happiness is: a mood, an "'everything is fine' attitude that reduces motivation for analytical thought", "positive affect" (Holt later comments that "Elaborate scales have been invented to measure individual happiness, but researchers admit that difficulties remain), "well feeling", "a shallow and selfish goal", "a psychiatric disorder" (although Holt rebuffs by saying "that may be going a bit far"), and "An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another" (Holt again steps back, "theres no need to be that cynical"). Thats a confusing combination that leads to a very loose definition of happiness, which makes this a difficult argument to follow....
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