Sigmund Freud – Happiness ‎

What is the Meaning and Purpose of Life? | Total Comments: 0 | Total Topics: 41

			Mention the word ‘psychology’ and the first name anyone thinks of is Sigmund Freud. In ‎fact, for many people, it’s the only name they can associate with the word. Just as Marx was ‎for communism and Einstein was for physics, Freud was for psychology. In fact, of the ‘big ‎three’ (Marx, Freud, Einstein) there is no question that Freud’s influence is felt much more on ‎a daily level than that of either Marx of Einstein. ‎
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Freud came from an Austrian secular Jewish family who, though poor, managed to give him a ‎thorough secular education. He entered the hardly existing field of psychology through ‎experimentation with hypnosis, an area of great interest at the time. His great discovery, ‎which he hit on quite early in his career (during the 1880’s) was that much of our feelings, ‎desires, and emotions, and even our intellectual thoughts, are rooted in a hidden and almost ‎uncontrollable region of the mind called the unconscious. It is in that murky realm, which he ‎later called the id, that all the repressed memories and desires from childhood emerge to ‎wreak havoc on the conscious part of the mind he referred to as the ego. His theories on how ‎the id influences the ego, and what the ego does in response, were developed and refined ‎over the course of his long career (about 1885–1935). His method of treatment of mental ‎illness that results from the effects of the id was given the name psychoanalysis. It was and ‎still is controversial in almost every aspect. ‎
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Freud broadened his theories to include all kinds of human activities that by all appearances ‎had nothing to do with the ego and the id. One of the most controversial of these highly ‎controversial extensions was religion. Freud was an atheist. He considered religion and the ‎entire concept of God to be nothing more than the result of another repressed fantasy from ‎childhood that resided somewhere in the unconscious. Spirituality was a complete mystery to ‎him, meaning that he thought it was all baloney. The attempt of his famous protégé, Carl ‎Jung, to integrate spirituality with psychology, irked him to no end. He saw religion in general ‎as an example of individuals or societies attempting to cope with mental problems through a ‎convenient escape mechanism. ‎
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He wrote a well-received book in 1929 called ‘Civilization and its Discontents’ which deals ‎with the conflicts between individual psychological needs and the demands of society. In it ‎‎(p.22-23 of the 1962 edition) he finally asks the big question, ‘What is the purpose of life?’ ‎Of course, to an atheist like Freud there can be no ultimate meaning, so the question had to be ‎qualified. Immediately after asking the question he writes that there may not be a definite ‎answer. He goes further, writing that there may not be any meaning to life at all. That this will ‎disturb people and make life not worth living is immaterial to the matter. He then claims that ‎the entire question is ill-founded, based on ‘human presumptuousness’ - that we are so ‎important that we actually have some ultimate meaning. In the end, he relegates the issue to ‎religion, a subject that he had dealt with a few years earlier. ‎
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But he goes on. He asks the ‘less ambitious question of what men show by their behavior to ‎be the purpose and intention of their lives. What do they demand of life and wish to achieve ‎of it? The answer to this can hardly be in doubt. They strive after happiness; they want to ‎become happy and to remain so. This endeavor has two sides, a positive and a negative aim. It ‎aims, on the one hand, at the absence of pain and unpleasure, and, on the other, at the ‎experiencing of strong feelings of pleasure…As we see, what decides the purpose of life is ‎simply the program of the pleasure principle.’ ‎
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Analysis ‎
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Well, there we have it, straight from the horse’s mouth. It’s all about having a good time. ‎Now maybe we can get on to more pressing issues like where socks go when they get lost in ‎the dryer. Of course, there is much more to it than that. The Pleasure Principle was a major ‎component of Freud’s view of the mind. It is one of ‘preprogrammed’ aspects of the id. It ‎simply is the way we are regardless of our childhood experiences or anything else along the ‎way. Human beings want pleasure and they don’t want pain. What could be more obvious ‎than that? ‎
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But we all know that it is not so simple. If life was one big orgy of physical pleasure, then ‎perhaps an unfettered pleasure-seeking drive would indeed be appropriate. But it isn’t. There ‎is real life to deal with, or as Freud calls it, the ‘Reality Principle’. Confronting reality places ‎major obstacles in our infantile drive for pleasure. In fact, practically all of life is just one big ‎obstacle to unlimited pleasure fulfillment. Freud was by no means ignorant of this fact of life. ‎In fact, the very next paragraph brings this point up: ‘One feels inclined to say that the ‎intention that man should be happy is not included in the plan of Creation’. He partially ‎resolves the problem by suggesting that we really should spend our time striving after the ‎second of the two paths to happiness – avoiding pain. He presents many options as to how ‎one may go about avoiding pain while getting an occasional fix of pleasure. These are the ‎various paths that people use to get through life. ‎
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The rest of the book deals with how civilization works against the individual pursuit of ‎happiness. No real solution is presented to the numerous problems. It’s vintage Freud, ‎speculating away, but also telling it like it is. Nevertheless, the point about the meaning of life ‎is fascinating – we behave as if the purpose of life is to be happy and to avoid pain. When ‎God and religion are removed from the mix, this is truly all that remains. And being as they ‎were just an illusion to begin with, that is really all there is. ‎
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On a very practical level, it sounds like we are just stuck in a situation in which there is no ‎meaning to life when one really thinks about it, but we act as if there is. But even this has the ‎reality deck stacked against it. Freud would probably be the first to say that life is a tough ‎road to walk down – being forced to do something that we can’t really succeed at and that ‎doesn’t really matter anyway. It is a bit tempting to suggest that the only real way out of this ‎Freudian dilemma is either to commit suicide or to follow Bob Marley’s advice: ‘Don’t worry, ‎be happy’. ‎
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One final point about Freud, he has no problem leaving us empty-handed in the ultimate ‎purpose of life question. This is truly the bottom line as far as genuine atheism is concerned. ‎Anything else is just misleading. That it’s not going to go over too well with people doesn’t ‎make it any less true from an atheistic standpoint. This is a very important matter that cannot ‎be overstated. Ultimate meaning does not exist to an atheist. Any search for it, is at worst the ‎pursuit of an illusion, and at best one more path to satisfying an innate biological drive that ‎we are stuck with. For an atheist, this is the naked truth. ‎
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However, Freud does add a puzzling statement: ‘Once again, only religion can answer the ‎question of the purpose of life. One can hardly be wrong in concluding that the idea of life ‎having a purpose stands and falls with the religious system’. Is he conceding a point to ‎religion here? Hardly, he relegates the whole system to ‘mass delusion’ a few pages later. But ‎he does recognize that the only possible way out of the ‘purpose’ dilemma, if one desires to ‎be extricated, is through religion. This is an amazing statement. The only solution to the ‎ultimate dilemma of life is through an illusion, or mass delusion, or childhood fantasy. If one ‎were to ask Freud the question: ‘What should I do if I really want to find ultimate meaning in ‎life’, how would he respond? It seems that he couldn’t really suggest religion because it is a ‎sham, but there is no viable alternative either. ‎
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This is a glaring problem, a problem that atheists conveniently sweep under the rug. At the ‎end of the day, whatever meaning they come up with is really nothing better than some ‎preprogrammed drive or some random response to random circumstances. Why should we ‎shoot for happiness, in whatever form is comes? Is it anything other than a mechanized ‎response to mechanized stimulation? Pleasure principle or not, is happiness really any better ‎than unhappiness? Atheists have no answers for these questions, because there are no ‎answers. What is a card-carrying atheist to do if he or she is no longer satisfied with satisfying ‎a biological drive? Where should they go for ultimate meaning? ‎
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Practical ‎
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There must be a way out of the dilemma. Perhaps even Freud would concede that some ‎solution has to be found. Perhaps there is a way. Maybe Freud’s odd suggestion/dismissal ‎that religion holds whatever key there may be to the ultimate purpose of life can be used even ‎by the atheists. The advantage the religious believers have over atheist non-believers is that ‎the former are genuinely convinced that what they are doing matters, while the latter are ‎uncomfortably aware that they cannot say the same about themselves. ‎
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But what if they could? What if an atheist could work up enough belief that whatever it is ‎they devote their life to really does matter in an ultimate sense - maybe that would be enough ‎to level the playing field. Even without a god, saving the earth is important in some spiritual ‎sense that goes beyond the molecules and neurotransmitters. Art has some cosmic significance ‎that somehow actually does something permanent. Science, intellect, kindness, happiness, ‎progress, personal fulfillment – these can all be true goals and quests that have some enduring ‎meaning and do not just go up in smoke. Maybe even non-believers can convince themselves, ‎that, in spite of their rejection of religion and all it stands for, they still have a place in their ‎conscience for a reality that exists beyond the nuts and bolts of the physical world. This could ‎be the path to salvation for ultimate meaning-seeking atheists. ‎
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Aside from this rather prosaic advice, Freud did leave us with something else. Happiness, ‎even in this non-ultimate sense, is something that we as human beings, need. It may go ‎against the ‘plan of Creation’, but that doesn’t make it any less pressing. In order for a person ‎to feel a sense of purpose they must be happy. How each one gets their happiness is their own ‎business, but we all need it. If anything positive is to be gleaned from Freud’s gloomy take on ‎our lot in life, it is that happiness is paramount. The important thing is to find the right path or ‎paths for you, according to your situation in life, and do it. Don’t let yourself be satisfied ‎with mediocrity when it comes to your own happiness. When the dust clears, when the ego ‎and the id have sorted themselves out, it’s what we all really want. ‎
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Food for Thought ‎
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A heck of a lot of well-informed, well-rounded, productive people, are genuine atheists. They ‎are not nut cases and they try to find, and frequently do find, fulfillment in life. If the ‎ultimate truth is that everything is just one big can of meaningless particles, how can this ‎fulfillment actually work? Shouldn’t they wake up one day and realize that it is just an ‎illusion? ‎


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