Friday, November 12, 2004

We Have No 'Right to Happiness'

'After all', said Clare, 'They had a right to happiness.'

We were discussing something that once happened in our own neighbourhood. Mr. A had deserted Mrs. A and got his divorce in order to marry Mrs. B, who had likewise got her divorce in order to marry Mr. A. And there was certainly no doubt that Mr. A and Mrs. B were very much in love with one another. If they continued to be in love, and if nothing went wrong with their health or their income, they might reasonably expect to be very happy.

It was equally clear that they were not happy with their old partners...You mustn't, by the way, imagine that A. was the sort of man who nonchalantly threw a wife away like the peel of an orange he'd sucked dry. Her suicide was a terrible shock to him. We all knew this, for he told us so himself. 'But what could I do?' he said. 'A man has a right to happiness. I had to take my one chance when it came.'

I went away thinking about the concept of a 'right to happiness'.

At first this sounds to me as odd as a right to good luck. For I believe--whatever one school of moralists may say--that we depend for a very great deal of our happiness or misery on circumstances outside all human control. A right to happiness doesn't, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or to have a millionaire for your father, or to get good weather whenever you want to have a picnic.
~C.S. Lewis, "We Have No Right to Happiness", God in the Dock (1979)

Note: This article was the last thing Lewis wrote for publication. It appeared shortly after his death in The Saturday Evening Post, (December 1963)

Yummy Link of the Day: When life gives you orange peels, make marmalade

10 Comment(s):

At Fri Nov 12, 07:36:00 AM EST, Blogger Bee said...

Just popped in here by accident. A beautiful site about one of my favourite authors. I read quite a few of his books when I was younger and after browsing through here it reminds me of how long it's been since I indulged. Thanks.

At Fri Nov 12, 07:59:00 AM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

Well, Bee, nice to meet you!

I hope you bookmark the site and stop by often.

At Fri Nov 12, 10:19:00 AM EST, Blogger Bob said...

I agree. A "right to happiness" is about as silly as expecting the world to be fair. If everyone has a right to be happy, what if one person's happiness destroys another person's happiness and vice versa? Whose happiness takes precedence?

At Fri Nov 12, 05:08:00 PM EST, Blogger Anamire said...

This article is truly fascinating. I think Lewis makes a very valid point. Maybe this is why the U.S. Declaration of Independence says we have the right for the "pursuit of happiness" instead of just "happiness."

At Fri Nov 12, 05:09:00 PM EST, Blogger Anamire said...

P.S.-You always find the coolest pictures, Arevanye! :)

At Fri Nov 12, 05:17:00 PM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

Why thank you, Anamire! Google "Images" is my friend. =)

I also thought of that line from the Declaration of Independence. But even the "pursuit of happiness" can be open to the same question. Is it okay to pursue happiness at the expense of another's happiness? It's really all about selfishness, isn't it--and our culture nowadays reveres the "I" much more than the "we" when it comes to pursuing the things we think we want.

At Fri Nov 12, 07:19:00 PM EST, Blogger Pilot Mom said...

Hi Arevanye! I found out about your site from Roger R. It has been a long time since I've read C.S. Lewis but I have always enjoyed him. I'm in agreement with Lewis, happiness isn't a right. It's nice when we experience it but hopefully it isn't at someone elses expense.

I also enjoy your pics that you add to your site.

At Fri Nov 12, 07:34:00 PM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

Well, PilotMom, Roger R. is an absolute dear. Have you seen his garden? Here's a link: Arborfield. Makes me long for England (and spring), just looking at it!

At Sun Nov 14, 08:45:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Arevanye: I stumbled upon this site from a link you posted on ToRn (It was your response to Tolkien's greatest quotes on the main board). Anyway Lewis has always been a persuasive writer imo so I dropped by and boy! Great pics, great quotes and super cool links! (Add to favorites immediately!)

Anyway, I think you should view the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration in the context of the pursuit of life and liberty as well. Those were grandiose ideas in a time when monarchs had the god-ordained right to rule and freedom of speech and especially religion was rare. In the New World that was America, people had the opportunity, the freedom to practise their own religion, to build up a life free from lording aristocrats and nobles. The pursuit of happiness was a tribute to american individualism (in the positive sense- hard work, determination) which at the time of the Declaration was seen to be what was making this land great and unique.

Of course in this more cynical and selfish age, the pursuit of happiness takes a slightly more selfish bent. Still, I have no qualms that it was in the Declaration. It is a great historical document and it is greater for that immortal phrase "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". So many new nations have tried to achieve these lofty aims (of course with varying degrees of success)

At Sun Nov 14, 10:44:00 AM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

Hello, Anonymous! Always nice to get a visit from TORnfolk. I hope you stop by often. Thanks for the compliments (blushes).

"The pursuit of happiness was a tribute to american individualism (in the positive sense- hard work, determination) which at the time of the Declaration was seen to be what was making this land great and unique."I agree! I wouldn't take this line out of the Declaration, but we need to be reminded of the original context. (thanks for that!) As our country has prospered, we forget that our freedoms and rights were not always ours to exercise.


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