Common misconceptions of happiness are due to the origins of which it is derived from. Charles Spurgeon who was a famous preacher once said, “It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness”. Through the works of Alfie Kohn, Heron Jones and Daniel Barwick, the concept of gaining the experience of true and genuine happiness must derive from an individual broadening their views to see what truly matters in life. In every work, the authors demonstrate the fact that genuine happiness cannot come from the dependencies that are placed on wealth and social standing.
Each work uniquely describes that the assumption of prioritizing success will guarantee true happiness is entirely false. Lastly, that ultimately the pursuit of general happiness is on the path of the pursuit of genuine happiness. In Daniel Barwick’s “Enjoying the so-called “Iced cream”: Mr. Burns, Satan, and Happiness” and Alfie Kohn’s “How Not to Get into College: The Preoccupation with Preparation”, both authors deeply and respectively, explore the concept that wealth and social standing does not ensure genuine happiness.
Barwick uses Mr. Burns from The Simpsons as a key example stating that “Burns’s unhappiness lies not in his advanced age… his unhappiness lies in a particular way of looking at the world… “( 2). Mr. Burns’s approach to happiness has led him to unsatisfactory feelings of joy and contentment. Barwick also states, “He is a creature of gross excess… none of Mr. Burns’s excesses bring him much happiness… he wants ever more”(4). Although Burns would be considered a man who has everything and would want for nothing, he is unable to experience genuine happiness as he is incapable of viewing the world for the little things that signify the most.
Similarly, Alfie Kohn goes to lengths to explain the difficulty in which students are able to experience genuine happiness when their lives revolve around grades and being successful in society. Kohn says, “[to] see his or her childhood as one long period of getting ready” (7). Childhood is supposed to be a significant time in one’s young life as it is a time of innocence and pure, genuine happiness. Kohn explains that for students, the concept of childhood had been tainted by the pressure that comes with academics.
Kohn exemplifies the fact that, the assumption of climbing the social ladder would guarantee happiness that would come later in life is entirely false when saying, “the value of everything is solely a function of its contribution to something that may come later” (8). His quote explains that students are unable to view the world for the priceless and genuine happiness that it can bring because their views of society are based on the significance of how a certain job or path will benefit in the end.
In both scenarios, Mr. Burns and students are blinded to the miniscule moments that bring genuine happiness due to their preoccupation with factors that when focused on entirely, will never ensure true happiness to them. The difference between happiness and genuine happiness lies in the origin of which it comes from. Most often than not, people are accustomed to settling for happiness that they forget what genuine happiness feels like. A sad truth of students in Kohn’s essay, is that the symbolization that is placed on grades and being successful has ultimately ruined their capability of being genuinely happy.
Kohn states, “Some people also judge individuals by the size of their houses… since when is it a reason for us to do likewise… to become enablers of their warped values? “(18). Due to the symbolization that is being placed on everything a student encounters, the only result in their emotions would be a false sense of self-fulfillment and happiness. Another result that is long-lasting, would be their views of the world, only being able to see what guarantees success rather than what will make them happy. Kohn xpresses this view sarcastically in the essay by stating, “If an activity most likely will not lead to a tangible reward… you’re better off without it” (3). In comparing students to workers, Heron Jones’s poem “Somnambulist”, expresses his views on “… living in another man’s dream” (6). Workers are placed in the same dilemma as students when it comes to prioritizing what truly matters in their lives. Although workers generally have necessities that they need to provide for, this reason is not an excuse to completely blind themselves from any possible source of true happiness.
The symbolization of false prosperity is placed on wages and continues to hinder the ability of being happy of those who focus solely on it. Jones exemplifies this when he says, “And our incentive is to keep wishing for raises, benefits, and bonuses / Dangling in our faces for the purpose of hypnosis / We might switch jobs or careers to climb the ladder a little faster” (40-42). He explains that the incentive is money and that a worker will do anything to increase the flow of money, whether it be a job or moving to somewhere random.
The symbolization that everyone, not just workers, place on wealth is devastating to those who cannot see past it. The devastation is ultimately in the loss of being able to appreciate the little things in life. Students and workers are alike in the fact that they can no longer see past their needs of success however, this results in the loss of their experiences of genuine happiness. What some people fail to realize is that happiness and genuine happiness cannot exist independently.
The pursuit of happiness is often heard to be the ultimate pathway of being content in life, however a more accurate pathway would be the pursuit of genuine happiness which involves both. Jones exemplifies this fact in his poem by saying, “When you close your eyes, be sure that it’s your dream that you’re dreaming/ Don’t have to quit your job or find a new career, but just be aware of the snare” (63-64).
In this quote, Jones explains that one must ensure that they are doing their duties and necessities but not simultaneously sacrificing their dreams and ultimately their enuine happiness. Although the duties and responsibilities can be overwhelming at certain points in life, one must make it a point for themselves to set aside the time and appreciate the little things that signify much more than making money or gaining social standing. Similarly, in Kohn’s essay, it is evident that in order for students to become as successful as possible, they must not sacrifice their social life and means of happiness for the sake of a false sense of self-fulfillment.
Kohn expresses this view sarcastically by stating, “Let grades control your life… nything that increases the probability of an A is time well spent; conversely, anything that distracts your attention from boosting a grade is time wasted… “(2). Kohn describes the truth in a hidden manner as to exhibit the unnecessary need to let grades or anything for that matter, control your life. Whether it be money, grades, a promotion or an acceptance to Harvard, it should never be the reason of blockage from the ultimate path of genuine happiness. Heron Jones understood what students have yet to realize and that is, the pursuit of happiness lies in the pursuit of genuine happiness.
When the false sense of happiness is focused on primarily, the pathway to genuine happiness is eclipsed and only a life of continuous wanting would be a guarantee. Life is only made full when one realizes that a life without experiencing genuine happiness is no life at all. In all three works by Alfie Kohn, Heron Jones and Daniel Barwick, it is expressed that in order to see and experience what life has to offer, one must first realize to step away from solely traveling the pursuit of happiness and engage the big picture, the route of the pursuit of genuine happiness.
The authors understand that whilst wealth and social standing are prioritized, genuine happiness could not be further from reach. They understand that the delusion of hard work will always return true happiness is entirely false. Finally they understand that, in order to be genuinely happy, one must first be able to accept all that life has to offer and compromise between living their responsibilities and living their dreams.