Negative happiness, positive action and meaning

“The meager pleasures of camp life provided a kind of negative happiness—“freedom from suffering” as Schopenhauer put it—and even that in a relative way only. Real positive pleasures, even small ones, were very few.” (Viktor Frankl: Man’s Search for Meaning)

Happiness is a shady term. At first we think of it as the definition of table (something difficult to describe but we all know agree what is) but it’s more like love. Something we all use and think we mean the same thing by it but apparently it’s all completely else for many of us. (Happiness might be winning big on the stock market; spending time with our parents; or writing poems home alone that we’d never show to a single soul.)

If I’ve been good in something in my life it’s been to reach freedom from (dirty / useless) suffering. It took plenty of effort and many years but now there’s very little involuntary frustration in my life. I’m still trying, I’m still challenging myself, I still have my annoyances: but it’s all for a meaning.

“Freedom of suffering” is the ideology on which our present culture is based. If you buy this great sport shoe you’ll be free from the pain of running and ankle pain; flying business class will free you from the discomfort of a long journey; watching TV and reading news will free you from boredom; taking a comfortable vacation will free you from “your daily hell“.

Based on this we’d be the happiest people if we weren’t worried, weren’t bothered, weren’t suffering, if we, simply, weren’t.

But what if suffering, trying, getting your hands dirty, getting angry and worried made life better on the long run? What if, for an important enough goal you risk of getting woken up at night, lose nerves, worry – or endure prison sentence is worth it?
It’s just that you have to pick your fights very carefully.

If you do anything (hell, even if you don’t!), you’ll get annoyed.  We have to wear clothes to avoid public laughter, prosecution and getting sick. We have to go to school every morning for long years. Fancy houses, cars, planes, etc. We need dentists and taxi drivers and restaurants and more.

We have more assets at our hands to gain negative happiness. From Viktor Frankl’s autobiographical book it seems this is plenty to hope for in a concentration camp.

But in a life of infinite possibilities I think it should not be too much to ask to pursue positive action and happiness.

D needs: negative happiness; B needs: positive action (intropsych)

Getting rid of annoyances, negative happiness seems to be ever-advertised for us. And it makes sense: because this creates business. It’s not much of a business if you take a walk under the stars with your love or you indulge in a memorable conversation. There is no business if you are at home and you feel relaxed and safe. There is no business in you getting to a point where you don’t want more things. There is no business in you using your energy to help.

When you feel that “this is time to make a change
– and you suddenly want to buy something
– your major effort is about getting rid of some annoyance
– you want to numb yourself with movies, books or money

Negative happiness is enough for a relatively worry-free life and we know that “If you’re going to be a cripple, it’s better to be a rich cripple“. But to make positive action and ignore the pain and annoyances you’ll need a meaning whether you live in a luxury apartment or in a camp (as Viktor Frankl).


You want to make a change? Look (waaaay) further than your corner shopping mall!


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