When Happiness Is So Overrated

I have been on Flickr for a while, especially as a big fan for its "Organizr" function that allows a single photo to be included in multiple galleries. With Flickr acquired by SmugMug, I decided to explore what SmugMug to offer. 

I transferred some old photos and uploaded a few more. Then I received the following message on the screen: 

"Hooray! That's 1 happier photo:)"

I was confused. My photo wasn't even close to being a happy photo. It was neutral, it was mellow, it was just...not happy. And there I saw the emoticon at the end of the message: a colon is followed by a close parenthesis.

SmugMug, a paid service with some powerful customization functions and a not-so-bad organizer itself, was giving me a hard time to get over its logo: A HAPPY FACE. 

I used to think that if there was anyone who wouldn't be irked by the overloaded happy faces, it'd be me. But thinking back, the thought might have been first challenged by a passage I read ten years ago (on a Chinese literature exam!). It was written by Guoping Zhou, who critiqued on the then-prevailing movement of the unanimous pursuit of "simple happiness.”

At that time (in 2007), a college professor in Chinese culture studies, Dan Yu, became a popular TV figure after starting to tell Confucius' stories in Analects 《论语》in simple language. Yu concluded that what Analects proposed, was to “follow one's heart and be happy." For the Chinese society then, that was more of a materialistic society (just like any other societies?), it was a powerful message for a lot of hardworking and direction-seeking people. As a teenager, I was intrigued too. Seeing how the professor turned those dry tomes into such lightweight messages, I decided that I should join them and “become one of those happy people too." 

Meanwhile, many academics were criticizing Yu's oversimplifying of the classics too. Among those voices, Zhou's critique of Yu, however, stayed more relevant to me. In his critique, he claimed that Yu's lectures were able to send some needed messages for the stressful Chinese society, and that her choice to interpret the classics in her own way was well justified. What was “not cool,” Zhou continued, was her hasty interpretation of “the life of the mind” (心灵生活) as "the happiness of heart," which in many cases of her storytelling, called for the compliance with roadblocks that "make you unhappy." 

The core of either Analects, Plato, or the Bible, Zhou suggested, was world views, which all communicated unique and profound intensions. "To be happy," in contrast, was merely a mental state, or “at the most a certain mental state that some world views would agree with at times.” Profound world views, Zhou concluded, were not just about embracing happiness, but engaging with the greatest sympathy of mankind. And in response to societal realities, the solution should never be self-detaching, but steadfast criticism. 

Then, I thought about Russel's three passions.

The longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.


Photo by  Mari Pa  on  Unsplash

Photo by Mari Pa on Unsplash

How depressing am I? Quite I guess. Let me think about SmugMug’s “That’s one happier photo” this way: the photo is uploaded, and it is why it is happier. The pursuit of sharing and to be seen is a nice world view, I guess.

(If you'd like to) Clap for my post on Medium:  

A link to Zhou's original article in Chinese: