Tag Archives: Happiness. Richard Oh.


The above sentence proves that for every sentence x that is true, it’s predicated to the interpretation (I) in the language of the structure A. Every sentence in this sense requires a qualifying sentence to confirm the initial premise: I’m happy. This basically tells us that we never really get to the truth of things. This is not merely because of the weakness of an object language but just a fact of life that there’s no complete correspondence between perception and reality. What we see are the objects of belief and this belief has nothing whatsoever to do with belief itself.

A trope from Wallace Stevens’ poem Description Without Place might give us a good feel of this:

It is possible that to seem — it is to be,

As the sun is something seeming and it is.

The sun is an example. What it seems

It is and in such seeming all things are.

How should we define happiness then? For one thing, we immediately notice that there is no verb for the noun word happiness. We know well enough that noun words like iconic representations are inexact and abstruse and worse they are themselves representations. Thus the dictionary might give you a definition of happiness: the feeling of or showing pleasure or contentment, but we wonder all the same how in the world do we reach that state of happiness (all nouns) without the intermediary of action words such as to feel or to be? Both ‘to be happy’ and ‘to feel happy’ suggest a kind of movement, an activity.

Perhaps we can draw on this illustration to get to the heart of the matter. An illicit love affair. Two lovers bound together in a cart dragged to the public square for execution. In the last scene of Kenji Mizoguchi’s film The Crucified Lovers, the lovers down on their luck exchange a fleeting smile. This fleeting nonetheless beatific smile, according to Badiou, is the truest expression of love because it’s beyond the generally accepted conjugal context. It’s an event. That smile is the affect of true love.

Can the same be said about happiness then? That the feeling of happiness is an affect in consequence of an activity? There is a sense from Badiou’s description of the smile of love that these affects are explicit. They are the metastatic signs of a symptom.

But we know from experience that such expressions may be misleading: that happy people are rotund, cherubic, rather chubby and always smiling and laughing. Because some of the meanest and most unhappy people are ones that laugh the hardest and are often the most exuberant!

Happiness as a pursuit is as old as the Greeks’ indictment that life is a tragedy. A century after the Enlightenment, in late 19th  century, Miguel de Unamuno, the renowned poet, novelist and philosopher from Bilbao, still persisted in this thought as shown by his work in Tragic Sense of Life. As with any predicament of life, a formula or a formalisation is sought vigorously to lend the flounderers among us a grip. Thus the phenomenal success of books about happiness. Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness no less. Since the liberation of gender and sexuality, happiness has become the obsession of our times. It’s become the indispensable pursuit of life in consequence of the huge leaps achieved by science and prosperity.

If we can derive from what we’ve learned from language and emotionality, the fact that happiness is an affect of an activity, we can safely say then that there is in reality no such thing as happiness. We can pursue this ineffable state for as long as we want, we shall never achieve the ultimate of it. One might even speculate if rigorous pursuit of it might not mislead us into all kinds of shenanigans of life. From this we can also say that happiness is neither an objective nor an added value to life. It is not an objective of life because how can one arrive at a delimiting point? It’s not an added value to life because we’ve learned from experience that misery (see the productive ashes that arose from depression era: mass industrialization etc) just as happiness (in our versatile modern age) is equally productive.

Happiness then is that intervallic Ni, the delimiting factor, that makes it possible to split two numbers into another extension. To be happy then is always in this gap that moves toward a plane ever different from the position where we find ourselves in. Since it has been proven that all knowledge is partial, because of the failure of a true correspondence between our perception and the object itself, we can therefore assume that this gap is also partial, the intervallic position. This partiality or gap is the necessary space for the production of novelty.

Life’s not a misery or worse a tragedy because nature does not allow itself to be disseminated. To the lowest end of negativity is the negated itself. Negativity in this way diminishes as we continually negate it.

The happiest people are people who are always on the move, in action and also those who never set their sight on the objective end of a pursuit. Happiness is the inherent nature of life that needs to be continuously extracted. It’s a quiddity.

A version of this essay appeared in Now Jakarta! October 2010.