When is happiness a bad thing?

The bad thing about happiness: It's relative. The good thing about it: that it is relative. Who should know about this?

The philosophers couldn't explain it adequately either. In the end it is very banal: happiness is what always lies in front of us.

There is a joke with two Jewish emigrants who meet on the street in New York. One says to the other: «And? Are you happy?" This other one doesn't answer, so the first one tries again: "Are you happy?" Again there is no answer and he asks: "Are you happy?" Then again the other says: «Happy, yes, but happy. . .? " Those who are happy don't have to be happy. This is something we can understand right away, but not necessarily explain. That there are nuances of happiness is part of our experience. But we also know from our experience that we cannot really define happiness.

Who doesn't know happiness? Whoever sees it is sure: that is it. But sometimes it just looks like lucky. We were wrong, and that makes us even more miserable than we would have been without this devious luck. It also works the other way around. Sometimes something looks like it isn't luck at all, and in the end it turns out: it was after all. It turns out many years later. Too late.

The philosopher Kant also thought about the approximation of happiness. He did not get very far with it: “But it is a misfortune that the concept of happiness is such an indefinite concept that although every person wishes to get to it, he can never say with himself what he is definite and unanimous actually want and want. "

The question of the room

The bad thing about happiness: It's relative. The good thing about luck: that it is relative. Who should know about this? One of my early ideas about happiness had to do with two Dutch women. They were probably friends of my grandmother's, at least they suddenly came to visit us. Their names were Nell and Wib, they sat on our sofa for a Sunday afternoon and spoke with that Dutch accent that helped Rudi Carrell break into the humor business. The two women, whose relationship to one another was not entirely clear to me as a child, talked and laughed. Actually, they only talked to be able to laugh. It would have been ridiculous if they'd just laughed. But as! The two women were a paragon of happiness, as one might have said back then.

Our relationship to happiness has to do with what relationships we have with one another. We have to endure the other, but also ourselves. That is not easy, and sometimes it can also be a nice habit of love to endure being alone. You fall apart without this immediately implying that you have grown apart. To the delight of all happiness experts, the philosopher Pascal has known a famous sentence. That people's unhappiness comes from the fact that they cannot stay quietly in one room.

I believe that the happiness of love is also a question of the room. Metaphorically and very practically. Can you stand being in the same room with the other, and if so, for how long? If you can take it with the other Not to be in a room? I'm not prone to slamming doors, but I can imagine that it is one of the most symbolic of acts of domestic displeasure. The slamming of doors does not oblige you to anything, but in terms of rhetoric it is hard to beat.

But back to happiness. Because people often can't think of anything else to deal with the complexity of relationships, they like to use images from physics. Attraction, this prototypical magnetism of love, can wear out something over the years. Then the person becomes nervous and follows centrifugal forces, which perhaps contain more of a slow flight than real force. The unpleasant thing about the materiality of love is that it can follow very banal laws of wear and tear. In the end you say: We have grown apart. I think this formula is a trick. Or self-deception, which in turn has to do with our understanding of happiness.

Rationalized love happiness

Anyone who believes in fortunate coincidences asks themselves: Where, if not in love, should something please happily add up? That is why our stories of love go like this: In the beginning there is happiness, but later it often thins. It thins out. In the end it's all gone. Perhaps in truth it is also the other way around, and love is about living together. The point is to say: happiness is still ahead of us!

Since its old-fashioned, almost premodern times, a lot has changed on the initiation market. It has worked its way out of the sheer and sometimes dubious romanticism and has become a place of calculation. The algorithm of relevant institutions on the Internet assigns us to each other and works on the rationalization of love happiness. That it is often about the physical first does not have to be tragic. The body is still the only thing in love that you can grasp with your hands. If you do it right, you can feel your way further.

I believe that the new forms of establishing relationships or something similar to relationships are intended to be exactly the same. You're anticipating the worst, so start with the basal. Happiness is then what remains after deducting the effort. These expenses are lower than ever today. So you don't risk a lot. On the other hand, there is room for improvement. Once you've had sex, you can still live together.

It has been a few years since I had to queue up at a bank counter in Vienna for any kind of money. The queue was long, and after some jerking there was an older man at the front who wanted to fix something from his savings account. The woman at the counter asked him what the secret word of the passbook was, but the old man had trouble hearing. It took several tries before he said the password as quietly as possible, but still loud enough for the entire counter hall to understand. It was called: Luise. The way this elderly gentleman said "Luise", one could assume that it had something to do with love.

A whole story was suddenly in the air of the ticket hall and about people who have their own experiences in these matters. Who have their own stories. It may be that some of the row in front of the bank counter has so far laughed a downright hit-and-run luck. Or operatic dramas. Many live out their love as if on a stage. You then need extras and prompts. “External consultants”, as they say in politics and business, and somehow relationships are like politics and business at the same time. The elderly gentleman and his Luise may have renounced such dramas. And the older man didn't suspect that there would be a stage for his love at the very end.

The wishes and the dog

To see our wishes come true in the hands of others is an imposition that is not so rare. The range of wishes can be quite large. In addition, you never know what will come up with your wishes. With them it is like with a dog that you think you are leading on a leash, but in reality it is he who we are chasing. He also discovers the strangest corners. In these places, which are somewhere inside us, there are "secret desires". For a lifetime you believe that you have everything, and then it turns out that something is missing.

Men in their midlife crisis are buying yellow fast cars or abandoning their wives in favor of women who also believe they have secret desires. But maybe it was all just a mistake, and the fulfillment of our wishes is not even half as interesting as we thought. The fact that our desired ego is in truth perhaps no more interesting than our already existing, i.e. daily ego, is an insult that we have to learn to live with. To be able to live with her is very lucky.

The text at hand is extracts from the book “Mind games about happiness”, which will be published by Droschl-Verlag in Graz on October 2nd.