There is, out in radioland, a certain radio talk show host. This certain radio talk show host has, as a regular part of the program, a segment which he calls “Happiness Hour.” The main idea behind “Happiness Hour” is that people have a moral duty to be happy, or at the minimum, to act happy. This thesis is proved by example on two fronts. 1) By reminding everyone how miserable it is to be around someone who is miserable and, 2) by reminding the listeners that unhappy people like Hitlers, Stalins, and terrorists have not left the world a better place than they found it. I am (if you didn’t already figure this out from the title) going to disagree.
Now, to be fair, I must say that I agree to a large extent with the themes running through this segment of the show. I agree that we can purposefully choose to act contrary to the way we are feeling, and that to some extent, our feelings can be altered by choice and by decisions to act a certain way. In sticking with the whole “being fair” shtick, I have to admit that I am most probably committing a terrible logical fallacy, namely equivocation. I give you fair warning, I am equivocating “happy” and all the other words hereafter used that are derived from it. Under normal circumstances I would be ashamed to be caught strolling hand in hand with an equivocation. Nevertheless, I am walking down this particular sidewalk with my fallacious companion, and my eyes are wide open. My apologies to “Happiness Hour.”
My contention is that unhappy people are not necessarily harmful to the world. Unhappiness is a fantastic motivator for change! We could even say that most of the major triumphs of good have come from unhappiness: unhappiness with the way things are, were, or are looking like they might possibly be. Instances of this are not hard to come by. Mother Theresa was unhappy with the conditions of the poor in India, Abolitionists were unhappy with slavery, and the1980’s were unhappy with the lack of hair metal bands in the prior decades.
The thing is, unhappiness motivates us to do something to change whatever. We change ourselves, change something around us, or change the way that idiot in front of us is driving. And the change can be either good or bad. It could even run into the terrorist vs. freedom fighter dilemma. Martin Luther is a prime example. Martin Luther was unhappy. He decided to do something about it, and the Catholic church wished he would have remained happy. Meanwhile, millions of Protestants are thanking God that he was unhappy.
The current political climate is a more modern example of the same sort of thing. President Obama was unhappy with the way the government was run, so he ran for president to bring about change. The Tea Party movement, is unhappy with President Obama, and they are trying to change the change. Unhappiness has motivated them both.
So perhaps it can be beneficial to cultivate unhappiness. I know there have been times when I don’t want to go to bed, because I know that when I wake up in the morning everything will be fine and dandy. My motivation to take up arms will have wandered off and gotten lost while I slept. I will not have the sense of urgency, the desire to strive, the gumption to do anything about whatever-it-was when I wake up. I will wake up happy, and curse my happiness.