Sometimes I write posts for others, and sometimes I am mostly writing for myself. This post is mainly something I am writing for myself to sort out my own thoughts. Happiness is probably one of the most discussed topics for mankind through all times. It’s also a concept which many have tried to explain. One of my favorite quotes related to happiness is from the philosopher Jean-Jaques Rousseau:
Happiness requires three things, a good bank account, a good cook and a good digestion.
What I like about this quote is that it says nothing explicitly about what happiness is, only three things which are required for it without really being too specific. Still it is simple and easy to understand.
In modern times, the ideology of individualism has gotten an increased importance. My argument is that it began after the 2nd World War when the shock from the two world wars was over and the economy was growing again in Europe. Groups which used to be marginalized got increased individual rights and the possibility to take place in and be heard in a society which traditionally had been ruled by white men. Welfare increased, I am not saying without any issues, but the argument here is that with better economy, social and technological advances it became easier for everyone to break out of the homogenous society and eventually a diverse society of individuals evolved. So before any group that feels marginalized cries out, I realize that many groups think they are quite far from reaching their end goal, but at least we have come quite a long way since the starting point for many of them.
The point here though is about happiness. And my argument is that with the increased diversity and individualism, the idea of what happiness is about, is also more diverse than before. And the focus on the individual has just continued to increase together with advances in technology and economy in particular. What I find interesting though, is that suddenly happiness, for many, doesn’t seem to be that simple anymore that it could fit with that simple quote by Rousseau.
The Modern Idea of Happiness?
The world has most definitely changed with social media. Those of us who have chosen (is it really a choice for many of us though?) to be on social media are constantly bombarded with impressions and statements from every possible direction. At the same time most people try to make a portrait of themselves as successful as possible. The right selfie at the right time is important to us now. Some people are even risking their lives for the likes they get on social media, just so that they can get recognition by others, because that is what brings happiness nowadays, right?
Apparently the worst insult you can say to someone nowadays is: “there is nothing unique about you.”
Today perhaps this version of Rousseau’s happiness would be more fitting:
Happiness requires three things, a good bank account (as long as you can show off your prosperity to others), a good cook (remember to document what, when and where you ate), and a good digestion (be sure to express how healthy and well you feel now with a smile).
I guess most looked over to their neighbour in the past, but I don’t think we have compared ourselves to others as much as we are doing today than anytime before.
So am I going to be that one guy who tries to tell you to get your act together and live a simpler life? Most certainly not. That might work for some people, but for us knowledge seekers who would like to understand the world, it is not a satisfying answer. It must be broken down further so we can understand it.
I don’t think it is possible to find happiness as long as the main focus in on happiness itself. In search for their own happiness many seek to have ambitions. As long as they reach their ambitions, they think that will be satisfied and live a happy life. Then when they fulfill their ambition and realize it does not hold up to their expectations, they realize that they are still not content. Don’t misunderstand me and think that being unambitious can remedy it. Ambition has its uses, but they are not for the pursuit of happiness itself. What I mean is that we are building up our Ego, which is a false self. The Ego can never be satisfied or be content over time. It will always desire more or desire what is lost and cannot be retrieved again. Therefore the Ego is an enemy of happiness.
To free oneself from that and “live a simpler life” is not a simple thing to do. It may mean accepting one’s fate, in the sense that there are circumstances outside of our own control, and that we may have to accept some rather uncomfortable truths in our lives. With social media we seem to have raised the expectations of what we can achieve beyond what’s reasonable.
Having a decent economy so that they can eat healthy and enjoy good health are things that most people in the western world can achieve. It’s fairly basic, but it only relates to things that you to some extent have control over. It does not involve other people with different agendas, which will happen when the desires gets more complicated.
What can the tarot teach us about happiness?
Tarot is of course not a tool that will guide you to a simple path on your way to happiness, but if used correctly, as the tool that it is, it can challenge you to question some parts of your self that might be counterproductive.
This is why I find it so repulsive when people try to lighten up the tarot or even remove the darker aspects of it. I just don’t subscribe to this endless well of positivity that seems to be quite popular in big parts of the New Age or Alternative Movement.
On the other hand it can be equally annoying with people claiming that difficult situations are just a part of a growth process.
I don’t think the tarot is about any of that. It attempts to tell the whole story as it is. What is, simply is. It’s purely descriptive and it is our job to interpret it. If you go through the Major Arcana, you can put together quite a dramatic story. It has been done before and popularized through the “Fool’s Journey”. Some people put a lot of emphasis on it and like to teach beginners, because it makes it a little easier to remember what’s going on in the Major Arcana. I am not sure about its origins, but I think it is a fairly modern invention. Some people like it, some people don’t. The point is that it tells the story of the spiritual development of a character with all its ups and downs.
I am personally quite fond of Søren Kierkegaard’s three stages of existance: the aesthetic stage, the ethical stage and the religious stage of life. You can be content in any of these stages, but Kierkegaard’s argument is that it is not something stable that will be lasting in the first two stages. According to him you need to take a leap of faith and enter the religious stage before you can become truly happy. Kierkegaard was a Christian, so for him it was an attempt to explain why Christianity was important. I don’t think that following Christianity or any other religion is the correct way to happiness, but I do think that they offer some kind of spirituality that will allow people to deal with the hardships of life.
The Major Arcana can be split up into 3 equal parts 1-7, 8-14 and 15-21. The Fool is left out, as it is both the beginning and the end. I think it is quite plausible to add Kierkegaard’s three stages to them. The religious stage would be the last of the three categories as this is the part that deals with existensial crisis and spiritual questions. It is here that some of the darkest cards of the tarot appear such as The Devil and the Tower. On the other hand, it is also here that some of the most positive cards appear such as the Star and the Sun, and at the end The World (I prefer the Universe).
So how can tarot really help us towards happiness? It reminds us that there are no shortcuts to the ultimate goal. Once we accept who we are and focus on our own journey or development all these other factors or disturbances don’t really matter anymore. It forces you to accept that there will be some hardships, but also better times. Accepting both are equally important. It is impossible to be happy if everything needs to be perfect all the time, but it is also impossible to find happiness without hope or the celebrations of some achievements. Tarot is of course not necessary, but it is a tool that can be used as a reminder for or as a guide to self development. It is easy to get distracted towards something else without a focus point. As stated in the article I linked to above: “Kierkegaard believed one should look to oneself and in that relationship look to Christ as the example instead of looking at others because the more you look at others the less you see of yourself.”
It’s also important to keep in mind that it is just a tool. As the Chinese proverb says: “Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.”
I don’t think my thoughts here are either new or revolutionary. Yet we seem to live an age where people look more to others than ever before rather than concentrating on themselves. This kind of ego-driven individualism where it is more important to look good in the eyes of everyone else is counterproductive and in some cases even dangerous. There are so many bad things coming with it such as virtue signaling and political correctness, which can be a very dangerous unless the values that are being promoted are sometimes questioned. I think we need diversity. Accepting something, does not mean that it has to be something you agree with or something that you like.
If everyone looks to others for their own happiness and need their acknowledgement for it, then I don’t think it is possible to ever become truly happy. We also end up being very similar to one another and most likely trying to put on our brave masks in public, while in reality we probably (at some point at least) feel quite empty inside.
Rousseau was right, you don’t really need much more than a good bank account, a good cook and a good digestion.
-Thus Spake the Night Spirit