In his essay “What is Happiness,” John Ciardi explores the true meaning of happiness. He portrays two extreme sides of this topic by depicting the two different ways Westerners and Easterners achieve this feeling of satisfaction. Plagued by a market that attempts to make “us deliberately unhappy” by constantly enticing consumers with new products, our Western society is taught that “to possess is to be happy.” However, because Westerners find happiness in materialistic aspects, we will never be truly happy because fulfilling all materialistic cravings is nearly impossible. Not only is our society obsessed with materialistic gains, but also with external beauty and vanity. He includes examples about magazines that brainwash readers into craving ideal beauty. Because of this type of advertising, our society tries to achieve this type of beauty, buying new innovative beauty products, but never being satisfied with our looks. Ciardi shows that our society is consumed with a mindset that constant possession of these materialistic and beauty aspects are important, but in reality, they are trivial because they will never lead to true happiness. On the other hand, Easterners find happiness in spiritual aspects, such as discipline and simple contemplation. Material possessions are unimportant to these people because they find joy in other personal ways.
While these two examples are major extremes to finding happiness, Ciardi attempts to show that the definition of happiness is different for and dependent on every person and their backgrounds. Obviously, not all Westerners are obsessed with materialistic gain, and not all Easterners find joy in simple contemplation. He points out that the key to happiness is finding “some sort of balance” between two extremes. By constantly pursuing the Western materialistic idea of happiness, we will never achieve a genuine state of satisfaction. But seeking an Eastern idea of happiness with a Western background will also most likely not result in true happiness.
Ciardi also explores the idea of the “pursuit of happiness” rather than the state of happiness. This was an interesting twist to his essay because he pointed out a thought provoking idea. He states that happiness cannot be achieved without prior effort or journey. This preceding journey is an essential part to happiness-it is where true happiness lies. Prior to reading this essay, I had not thought about the effort or journey put into achieving happiness, but by pointing this idea out, Ciardi presents an interesting view point. Thinking back to times of true happiness, I realized that most of my personal experiences with this emotion have resulted from overcoming difficulty or effort. For example, hours of drills and practicing on the tennis courts is rewarded with a feeling of happiness from winning a tournament. While not all happiness is found in or requires overcoming difficulty, most situations of true happiness do.
The author expresses that no one can live in a constant state of happiness, but conquering difficulties often leads to a positive result of emotion. Ciardi presents a universal message through his essay. I agree with him that the key to happiness is a balance between extremes. I appreciated his inclusion of the idea that happiness is found in “the pursuit [of] itself” because it is an intriguing and uplifting idea; the result, but the journey, is not always what is important. This essay has made me realize that some of the things in which I find happiness are not actually evoking true happiness. In reality, these things I once thought were sources of joy are unimportant and trivial, and I need to begin to find and appreciate a balance for true happiness.
Here’s a link to the essay: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BxcQgjnJhCFGbzJEN1E3NDFxcU0/edit