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Culture & Religion

Misery Makes Happiness

“There is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast,” said Herman Melville. He meant that the lives we think we’d love, lacking contrast, would be miserable. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Suffering the monochrome (gray) existence of an Irish summer, author Oliver Burkeman recalls Herman Melville who, in his novel Moby Dick, wrote about the icy conditions of whaling contrasted with the warmth of a bed at night. Melville said that “a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich.” The pinnacle of “deliciousness”, as Melville puts it, “is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.”

What’s the Big Idea?

We may often imagine a life free of hardships where, free from concerns of money, relationships and responsibilities, we are truly and perfectly happy. It is neither for better or worse that that world cannot exist because we know positive emotions like satisfaction, joy and so on, only by their opposite. “We strive to improve our circumstances, envisaging some endpoint of unbroken pleasure, without heeding Melville’s warning that ‘there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast’.”


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