Teaching happiness as limits

In: Uncategorized

10 Feb 2008

Today’s Something Understood programme on BBC Radio 4, presented by Mark Tully, was unwittingly revealing about the thrust of the happiness discussion. Its main emphasis is that people should be happy with what they have got rather than try to achieve more.

The case was put by the presenter and most articulately by Anthony Seldon, the headmaster of Wellington College (a posh “public school”) in an article in the Independent (19 April 2006) quoted in the programme:

“The lessons will, I believe, be highly moral. The pupils will learn how to look after their bodies well and how not to abuse them. A healthy body is far more likely to lead to a happier mind than one which has been abused with bad food, drink, cigarettes and drugs.

“Good relationships, which lie at the heart of anyone’s happy life, are based on a strong moral code of caring for the other and being loyal. Abusing others, either with words, physically or by inappropriate sexual relations, does not produce happiness but rather the opposite.

“The pursuit of true happiness is also a deeply spiritual quest: the heart of spirituality is about the transcendence of one’s own self and the forming of deeply loving and compassionate relationships with others. Neither do I see these lessons as selfish. Ask any parent. Would they sooner see their children happy and fulfilled, even at the cost of achieving slightly less, or stressed out and vexed in the pursuit of ever-higher goals which always seem to be beyond their reach? Happiness I believe lies in knowing one’s own limitations, accepting oneself for what one is, and being proud of what one achieves, at whatever level that might be.”

So for Seldon, as for the other happiness gurus, happiness means acceptance of limits. It is a deeply conservative message.

Meanwhile, I read in the Harvard Crimson that introduction to economics has retaken its position as the most popular course at the university from positive psychology.

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