I’m not sure I knew the details of all these lives [Etty Hillesum, a Dutchwoman on the way to a Nazi death camp, Ralph Waldo Emerson and a Japanese poet Issa] when I was 29, but I did begin to guess that happiness lies less in our circumstances than in what we make of them, in every sense. “There is nothing either good or bad,” I had heard in high school, from Hamlet, “but thinking makes it so.”Towards the end of the essay he says,
The constitution of Japan, refreshingly, says nothing about the pursuit of happiness, as if to suggest that happiness, like peace or passion, comes most when it isn’t pursued.There is something vaguely discordant about that idea, am not sure what it is. His giving up his life in New York and seeking a life in Japan seems like the pursuit of something. And anyone giving a thought to whether they are happy or not (which is the only way you'll know you're happy) must be seeking it. And if they don't give a thought to whether they are happy or not, then more power to them and their detachment, but it is not the same as being happy. I guess what I'm trying to ask is, Can you be happy without seeking happiness?
I know this must seem like a nit picky point, but it was, perhaps, unnecessary on the author's part to ding all things American, including the Constitution, in order to make his point. I'm sure there are a lot of genuinely happy people in the Western World working and living within its value system.
Related post: What Makes You Happy?
[Update June 9, 2009: The New York Times carries reader reactions to the original Pico Iyer article, some in agreement and some in disagreement (such as, It takes a boat load of money to go off and live a simple life). Worth reading. Thanks, BPSK, for pointing me to the revision of the original article.]
[Update #2, June 9, 2009: The revision to the original article was to remove the reference to the Japanese Constitution. Thought I'd put it here in case you don't make it back to the original article or to BPSK's comment to this post. At some point during the day yesterday I got to wondering whether Japan even had a constitution given that they had emperors 'n all. NYT's note just says that the reference to the Japanese Constitution was 'incorrect' without elaborating.]