Choosing Happiness, Part IV

Sympathy

Is it selfish to choose happiness when others are miserable? On the one hand, I think the answer is no. The conclusion I have outlined is that happiness is not a limited resource that can be monopolized. It is accessible “in infinite quantities” to everyone willing to exercise their will. It is only inaccessible to the unwilling.

On the other hand, sympathy (literally, “feel the same”) is foundational to social relations. It is certainly considered insensitive to express joy in the presence of grief. Does that mean experiencing grief is good? What if one expresses grief, for the sake of sympathy, while feeling happiness inside? Isn’t that insincere sympathy?

This dilemma might be resolved by thinking of happiness as a home, indeed, as everyone’s home. When some one leaves home and enters the realm of negative emotion, they become separated from us. The only way to bring them home is to go to them and lead them back. This means genuinely sharing their emotions without forgetting that you are both on your way back to happiness. This experience, this emotional journey you take together, creates a social bond. It also demands emotional fortitude and leadership.

Wow, that was one of the touchy-feeliest things I’ve ever written! In the next part, I’ll briefly interpret a Hindu perspective on the subject.

Tags: Philosophy

Updated at: 30 October 2013 2:10 PM

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