What is happiness? That is not a question that may be easily answered. Due to the fact that every human-being possesses their own views on life, it is possible that there are innumerable interpretations of what is ultimately this idea seen as happiness. For the purpose of interpreting the idea of happiness as opposed to “being happy” I believe that it is necessary that there be a more continual and perpetual meaning is attached to happiness. I do not believe that actual happiness is a fleeting experience, but instead, a lasting state in which someone finds themselves. When looking to a dictionary or other source of reference to determine an official and concrete meaning behind happiness, the Miriam-Webster Online Dictionary first presents the definition “a pleasurable or satisfying experience.” This, again, suggests that happiness but a brief feeling and possesses no long lasting effects. Instead, we will look to a second definition of happiness by Miriam-Webster presenting a definition that more reasonably proposes that happiness is one’s position on life rather than a transient feeling. Miriam-Webster states that happiness is “a state of well-being and contentment.” By introducing this idea of well-being to an explanation of the inspiration of happiness, Miriam-Webster’s definition suggests that different elements, such as health and comfort, are required to create happiness. Many people over the course of history have attempted to define happiness, and some definitions are quite interesting, however, who is to say that any of the definitions are correct or incorrect? To answer the original question asked, “What is happiness?” there is no definite way to define happiness, especially not a definition that will be valid for every person. Happiness is something that is achieved, and once achieved, that person knows that something is different. It is something strived towards in our society because there are so many people facing adversity that many are unable to find their happiness due to their worries. In his book, Brave New World, Aldous Huxley introduces a type of society quite different from our own in which happiness is not a goal, but a constant state for everyone.
Members of society in Brave New World are taught from the very beginning of their lives that they are “happy.” This is exemplified in the motto of the World State, “COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY” which, less than coincidently, synonymize many of the words in repeated many of the definitions of happiness that have been derived over the years. What Huxley has done in Brave New World is create a world that is meant to be perfectly happy by falsely establishing, within his characters, the ideas that we value for happiness in our society. The society in Brave New World is built upon this idea of stability. That is the foundation of society for the sole reason that it stability leads to lasting societal happiness. By generating this happiness within the society, the need to strive towards happiness as is necessary in our society is not needed in the Brave New World. When contemplating whether Aldous Huxley was proposing that we, as individuals, should strive towards something other than happiness, an interesting idea comes to mind. This idea is one that suggests that in writing Brave New World, Huxley has saved us the trouble of wondering what would be the result of us, as a society, not needing to worry about happiness. This argument may be split up into two separate scenarios. There is one that offers a world where happiness is humanly generated, as it is in Brave New World, this would lead, it seems, to many people relinquishing their individuality. The other would result in members of society being more like Bernard Marx, a character in the story who is quite obviously unhappy with life in his society. Thus, if anything, Huxley is not suggesting that we, as individuals, pursue something other than happiness, but advising us against pursuing anything but happiness as we view it in our own right.
The ultimate goal of the Brave New World is to create societal happiness through communal stability. This is done in a number of ways. For one thing, there are social norms that are instilled within each member of society in the early stages of life. By generating these thoughts within each member of society and, more specifically, for each class individually, the society is able to ensure that members will be supplied with the proper thoughts to maintain normal affairs in each area of society. The society makes sure, at very early stages of life, that the children of the society know nothing outside of what the society wants them to know. This is said almost as if the society is a person or and entity in and of itself, but in this case this is not far from the truth. The Director, when giving a tour of the hypnopædia center, described their teaching as this, “The greatest moralizing and socializing force of all time.” (Huxley, 28) The director is correct in stating that this is a powerful force, it actually has the capability of shaping a person’s mind, as the director says, “Till the child’s mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child’s mind. And not the child’s mind only. The adult’s mind too… The mind that judges and desires and decides… But all these suggestions are our suggestions!” (Huxley, 29) By putting emphasis on the word “our” the director is stating that society is making these suggestions, and the society is the force behind creating the mind of everyone which inhabits it. This generated happiness created by the society removes all individuality from a person.
Bernard Marx, a key character in Brave New World, tried to rebel against the way that society removed most free will from its citizens. As a result of his rebellion, Marx was immediately threatened with exile. As a worker in the hypnopædia center, Marx knew exactly what was being done to remove free will within society. Throughout the novel, Marx is seen quantifying the hypnopædic process and its effects that show in the people around him. Marx is known for turning down offers for sexual activity, something that also takes part in creating happiness and stability within the society. He desired a more intimate relationship with a woman, Lenina, which was strictly forbidden, and as a result, his boss threatened him with exile to Iceland. Later, Marx seemed disgusted with the way that Lenina’s mind worked, she was so narrow minded and content, i.e. conditioned by society that he couldn’t bear to converse with her. Bernard voiced his displeasure to Lenina about the way that he was “enslaved by his conditioning,” he told her that he wished to be “free” (Huxley, 91). Lenina immediately responded by telling him he should take soma, a hallucinogenic drug that is another method of maintaining happiness. Bernard never liked to take soma because he wanted to have the thoughts that he was having rather than remain content with the way that life was made to be by society. This form of rebellion was subtle, simply thinking about a different type of life, but society did not possess what was Bernard’s view of happiness.
By depicting these scenarios in his book, Aldous Huxley showed what it would be like to be in a society where it is made impossible to be in control of one’s happiness, and even went as far as to show what it would be like to not be in control of one’s own thoughts. There is no singular definition for happiness. Everyone has their own specific, individual happiness and to pursue anything but that is essentially to waste life. I personally look at life as a wonderful opportunity for people to do what it is that they want to do. Unfortunately, as far as we know, we only have one life to live, so doing anything other than pursuing what makes you happy during your time on Earth seems to be a waste to me. Happiness is meant to be found, not eluded. Just as an afterthought. I took some time before beginning to write this and read as many definitions of happiness as I could find. Views on happiness from everyone I could think of, from Ghandi to Tom Cruise to Socrates. There are thousands of ideas of what happiness is out there. Do yourself a favor and take some time to come up with where your happiness lies. Because I have already lived a portion of my life and I do not have a blank slate to start with, my definition of happiness came out like this: “An unconscious decision that is made when fulfillment, satisfaction and comfort counterbalance and outweigh anguish, uncertainty and anxiety.” One day, I do hope to reach that decision and achieve that feeling.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: Harper Perenial, 1969