The Critic’s Pursuit of Happiness

I totally love Žižek, of course, that old rabble rouser! And I am not a fan of chasing happiness. However, in this post, I will invert both of those.

Žižek talks about happiness, here on Big Think.

Zizek on Big Think

First, it is important to understand the tradition that Žižek comes from. His is Slovenian, the first to translate Derrida into Slovenian, one of his first books was a response to Lacan (read: Freud), and a post-Marxist Communist and far left of liberal. He is so much a practitioner of post-post-modernism that he is even post-ironic. Of course, he isn’t interested in happiness! Duh!

Second, the father of the positive psychology movement would support the flow and purpose elements that Žižek mentions (see also the flow and purpose work of Csikszentmihalyi). If you want to go deeper than these TED talks, take a look at Seligman’s book: Flourish (and for that part Csikszentmihalyi’s classic book on Flow).

Third, most of us have a terrible and childish relationship with desire that fits the kind of model that Žižek describes as the problem with the pursuit of happiness. Perhaps the Situation is Hopeless But Not Serious. It describes some of the real errors we make when pursing what we think is our own happiness, from a practicing psychologist. It ties well with Brené Brown‘s work on being whole-hearted and worthy of love and belonging (and the flip side: shame). Because people reject their achievements when they feel unworthy of them. It isn’t about the goal, it is about whether we believe we deserve it.

Finally, to finish my critique of Zizek’s view of happiness, see Esther Perel’s Ted talk on long term relationship for how to solve the mistress problem. Sure, if TED isn’t your style, she has a book too, Mating in Captivity. When we become conscious of the dance between security/safety and desire, we can better ride the edge and enjoy desire as desire rather than the pursuit of an (unsatisfying) outcome.

I also think Open to Desire from Mark Epstein may have some of the answers on how to ride that edge beautifully. But I have to finish reading it to be sure.

Also note, the title is eerily similar to Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, the biography by Jeannette Winterson.