History of Happiness

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By paridhi3
Words 3807
Pages 16
The History of Happiness and Contemporary Happiness Studies
Darrin M. McMahon
New Directions in the Study of Happiness
Notre Dame University, Oct. 22-24, 2006

Well, first of all let me say what an honor it is to be here, speaking to such an illustrious gathering of scholars, and to thank the organizers at Notre Dame for having invited me and indeed for having invited all of us. It occurs to me that we in the academic world like to talk about the importance of interdisciplinary discussions, about the need for cross-fertilization, and the like, but in my experience that is too often, regrettably, more talk than reality. So chapeau, as the French say, to Notre Dame for hosting this event around a subject that so clearly demands multiple perspectives.
I’ve noted that this first panel modestly poses the question “What is happiness?,” and modestly let me say that I am singularly unfit to answer it, in large part because of my training as a historian, which makes me, I fear, unduly attentive to the way in which words and concepts change their meanings over time. To be perfectly frank, I’m partial to Immanuel Kant’s observation that “the concept of happiness is such an indeterminate one that even though everyone wishes to attain happiness, yet he can never say definitely and consistently what it is what he really wishes and wills.”
But clearly that is not really going to be good enough here tonight. So how to answer the question “what is happiness.” I might point out, as I do, in my book the strong and stubborn etymological link between happiness and luck in every IndoEuropean language. The old Norse and Old English root “hap,” like the old French heur or the Mittelhockdeutsch “Gluck,” simply means luck or fortune. We have mis-haps

2 when bad things happen to us. And when good things happen to us—when we are lucky—we are happy, Glucklich, filled…...

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