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Why Can’t We Find or Make a Happiness Drug?

[I think happiness is a very peculiar thing. But first I have to define exactly what I mean by that deceptively simple word. By happiness I mean a state of mind with the following characteristics:]

1)  It is occasional—sometimes very occasional—yet universal: everyone has experienced it at one time or another.

2)  Typically, it is not very emotionally intense.

3)  It often coexists with some kind of rational pleasure (in the sense of having a common and obvious cause), whether it be sensual, emotional, or intellectual.

4)  At the same time it seems independent of any rational pleasure. For example, it might come over you while walking down the street on a cold winter day, or while lying in bed after waking up in the morning, etc., etc.

5)  It has the power to temporarily negate insecurity, care, frustration, disappointment, grief, etc.—of course if it didn’t have this power the thing could hardly exist.

6)  It almost never lasts for very long; in fact it is often experienced in flashes.

7)  Unlike enjoyment or pleasure it is never within your power.

8)  When it comes you’re in the mood to say, like the New England transcendentalist Margaret Fuller, “I accept the universe.” Even if you remind yourself of all your grievances against the universe—its unfairness, for instance—or against God—why did He create such a world—it’s hard to feel the old furious indignation.

9)  It seems objective, something outside you, something vast, powerful and permanent, very much like Eros does when he strikes with all his force—“This thing is bigger than both us!” To borrow a phrase from Bertrand Russell, it is “something elusive, and yet omnipresent, and at once subtle and infinite.” That’s the conviction it inspires.

10)  It’s very difficult to remember it vividly. This is partly due to the fact that its visitations are separated by long intervals of ordinary experience which steadily dim one’s recollection. After a while you begin to doubt the reality of happiness, begin to wonder if you only imagined it as a form of wish-fulfillment.

11)  As long as you can maintain the conviction that it exists, that it is a solid reality which is near at hand and may suddenly make its presence felt at any moment, you can feed on that conviction. And to the degree you can keep the memory of it alive, you can re-experience it in a diminished form.

12)  When it suddenly and unexpectedly returns, if only for a brief moment, you’re convinced of its reality and incomparable value all over again. You also think that never again will you doubt that it exists.

13)  When happiness is in possession, you can never imagine growing tired of it.

[Here are two questions: 1) Does the experience of this kind of happiness have a tendency to encourage belief in an otherworldly realm, or at least weaken the commitment to materialism? 2) If this most delightful of all mental states is caused entirely by electro-chemical processes in the brain—as naturalists say it must—should it not be less of a challenge than it has so far proved to convincingly simulate it with drugs or external stimuli?]

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