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Against Happiness by Jim Holt

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Essay title: Against Happiness by Jim Holt

Jim Holt fails to label happiness as yet another social evil in "Against Happiness", an essay in the sunday magazine of the New York Times from June 20, 2004. In this essay Holt argues that: "Sad people are nice. Angry people are nasty. And, oddly enough, happy people tend to be nasty, too." This presents an intriguing, counterintuitive argument

to his readers, and while this is definitely

an intresting argument

to engage in, Holt falls short of convincing me of happiness' darkside. Sometimes he seems to just be rambling- this piece feels more like a discussion than an argument

, many times in the essay he reports evidence which may be convincing, if it wasn't immediately deflated by counter evidence or the author's own cautiousness, and worst of all, the report used to support his otherwise irresitable thesis, doesn't support it at all.

The appeal in "Against Happiness" seems to be purely emotional. It seems that Holt belives that if the reader questions happiness enough, and gets sideways enough about the definition of happiness, they might be confused and paranoid enough to start beliving that maybe, possibly, if happiness were like that, and if happy people might do that, then I guess it may be possible that happiness could be bad in a certain circumstance. According to Holt's research, happiness is: a mood, an "'everything is fine' attitude that reduces motivation for analytical thought", "positive affect" (Holt later comments that "Elaborate scales have been invented to measure individual happiness, but researchers admit that difficulties remain), "well feeling", "a shallow and selfish goal", "a psychiatric disorder" (although Holt rebuffs by saying "that may be going a bit far"), and "An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another" (Holt again steps back, "theres no need to be that cynical"). Thats a confusing combination that leads to a very loose definition of happiness, which makes this a difficult argument

to follow.

The evidence Holt uses might work if he didn't undermine it by questioning it or prividing a counterpoint. He seems to be overly cautious, almost like he's having a hard time believing it. On one hand, "the United States consistently

ranks near the top in international surveys of happiness" (the US being the richest nation in the world), and on the other hand, "as education and freedom increase, desires -- and unmet desires -- inevitably multiply; our well being may decrease, even as life becomes fuller and more meaningful". Holt openly admits that currently there is a problem gathering accurate research on happiness, but apparently 20 and 30 year old studies are good enough for evidence. Even worse, the two older studies contradict eachother, and are ineffetive as evidence: "A Dutch study in the 1980's, for example, found that a happy 70-year-old man... live(s)... 20 months longer...", and "an earlier American study found that children who are cheerful and optimistic end up having shorter life spans". Another problem with these two studies is that Holt ignores that two different cultures, and the scientists within them, may define happiness differently.

JIm Holt's motivation in this piece is extreamly unclear, and motivation is the first thing I question when I read an argument. I understand that Holt isn't on a mission to destroy happiness, but if he didn't believe that the dark side of happiness exists, why would he want to expose it? It seems his motivation is just to make people think

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