Happiness and The Individual

Peter Augustine Lawler has a superb piece on the pursuit of happiness. Lawler observes how most people equate happiness with individual happiness, and are willing to go to great lengths with biotechnology to make that happen:

We can see that the hope we place in biotechnology is based, in part, on our present desperation. In some ways — despite the wonderful and undeniable benefits we enjoy because of our technological successes, we find ourselves less happy than ever because we understand ourselves more than ever before as merely individuals. Family ties are weaker than ever, and even friendship is becoming merely networking. The critics are right that even our religion is often becoming cloyingly therapeutic or rather narcissistic, and we sacrifice and even deliberate hardly at all as citizens. We are more than ever under the libertarian spell of thinking that freedom means designing our lives without the constraints of others. We are more than ever merely “consenting adults.” Biotechnology, by itself, is far from offering any true antidote to our unhappiness as individuals; its central promise, of course, is to make our designer fantasies real. Our technological pursuit of happiness is never a cure for our real desperation; it can never be a replacement for virtue.

Lawler is right; biotechnology cannot bring us true happiness. Part of the problem is our warped view of happiness. I’ve actually talked to people who say that they don’t want to go heaven because they think they would become bored. Happiness is not merely sitting on a tropical beach. God has made our lives to intersect with others outside ourselves. As John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” In the course of human events, one must deal both with God and other people, and a person’s “happiness” must not be divorced from these dealings.