Friday, February 8, 2008

Newsweek:The Pursuit of Unhappiness

Misery is a rational response to the world, but sometimes you just have to feel good. Try not to get carried away.

By Jerry Adler Newsweek Web Exclusive

What is this happiness of which the poets speak? Beats me. I have glimpsed it fleetingly in the shreds and scraps of dreams that slip away with the dawn—evanescent, like life itself. The better life is, the sooner it will seem to be over, and the greater the regret at leaving it behind. In his 80s, William S. Paley, the immensely wealthy and powerful head of CBS, would wail to friends, "Why do I have to die?" I've never actually had cause to wonder about that, but I have to admit, if I had Paley's life I wouldn't want to die either.

At other times happiness steals over me in the stillness of a Sunday afternoon in springtime, with the warmth of the sun soaking me down to my bones, making me feel … well, that's the problem right there: it makes me feel awful about climate change. Unhappiness is the natural outcome of fine-tuning one's sensibilities to the awful truths about the world. With every breath I draw I am mentally counting carbon dioxide molecules. I feel the hunger of the polar bears as acutely as if I were stranded myself on an ice floe drifting out to sea. I pine for extinct species of salamanders on the other side of the globe as if they were my own kids.

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