We're on earth – there's no cure for that
August 2, 2006
When Adam Phillips’ American publishers were planning a US edition of his book Going Sane, they insisted on giving it an upbeat subtitle. The idea drove him, if not insane, then to distraction. “The woman at the publishers said to me: ‘How about Maps of Happiness.’ I thought she was joking, so I said: ‘How about Maps Against Happiness?’ And she said: “I don’t think so. Against is such a negative word.’
The proposed subtitle rankled because Phillips is against guidebooks to happiness. “A culture that is obsessed with happiness must really be in despair, mustn’t it? Otherwise why would anybody be bothered about it at all?” asks the psychoanalyst, closing his eyes as he does repeatedly during the interview when he wants to clinch a thought, and then leaning forward to put his head in his hands. “It’s become a preoccupation because there’s so much unhappiness. The idea that if you just reiterate the word enough and we’ll all cheer up is preposterous.
Oh I wanted to clap and cheer when I read that. Philips is railing against the instant-fix, one-size-fits-all approach to being perfect, happy, sorted – call it what you will. I, like him, believe that you can only be happy if you are able to experience the darker side of life – I mean – how would you know what happiness was if you couldn’t relate to not happy? And if we don’t attend to not-happy then happy is merely a myth that can never be realised in real life. Consulting and coaching must attend to the “nots” in a meaningful way. Simply glossing over them won’t work and the energy expended (particularly on change projects) will be wasted.
Is he saying suffering is necessary to the examined life? No: suffering is not essential. It’s just unavoidable. All forms of sufferings are bad but some are unavoidable. We need to come to terms with them or be able to bear them.
And on the current craze for books on happiness he has this to add:
I’ve looked at them. They seem to me to be the problem rather than the solution.
We’ve got to move out of seeing things in such stark polarities – Adams is merely saying that our ability to be happy, be fulfilled is as a direct result of our being able to handle happiness, unhappiness and all that comes in between. Life isn’t one or the other – it’s both.
It’s like [Beckett’s play] Endgame: ‘We’re on Earth. There’s no cure for that.
Hat tip:Mind Hacks