There are two terms in ethics and philosophy which are sometimes mistaken for each other. They are pleasure and happiness. Is a person happy because he lives a life of pleasure?
There is happiness where there is little or no pain. This pain may be physical as when you have a wound on the leg or when a tooth is aching. The pain may be emotional when you live with fear, anxiety and envy.
There can be no pleasure unless there are the conditions which are necessary for happiness. You want pleasure when you crave for more things than those which bring happiness. It is not enough that you are healthy. You want to dance, sing, and have a beer or a beauty. These things give you pleasure.
The philosopher best identified with the idea of pleasure was Epicurus (341-270 BBC) a Greek. He maintained that pleasure is the fundamental human good, and that the best life is one that is as pleasant as it can be.
In the pursuit of pleasure, Epicurus counselled moderation, not indulgence in sensual pleasures. He said the most pleasant state is one of emotional tranquility; “The wiseman does not depreciate life nor does he hear the cessation of life.”
About happiness, we must listen to a 19th century British philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). He wrote The Creed, which is accepted as the foundation of morals, Utility or The Greatest Happiness Principles holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by happiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.
Here I must disagree with JS Mill in that a person who does not take part in pleasures is not necessarily unhappy. Has it not been said one man’s food is another man’s poison? A bottle of champagne may give joy to one person while another won’t touch it. The latter is not, thereby, unhappy.
A community or society as a whole may consist of happy or unhappy people. In a community where everyone is a master of himself there can be no happiness. The pleasure if it exists, will be that induced by orgies.
Happiness is a matter of both the environment and the individuals. In a social environment where there is no recognised authority, where none of the members obeys anyone, there is no security, no industry, no farming, and no knowledge of any kind. Instead, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) an English philosopher observed “that there is ‘continual fear and danger of violent death and the life of man, solitary poor, brutish and shoot.”
A happy people makes a happy nation, a happy nation makes a happy people. If individuals are disciplined and law abiding they will be happy even if they do not indulge in much pleasure. Because they are happy, their nation will also be happy.
Does wealth make a person happier than poverty? Not necessarily. But there can be no happiness where people perpetually suffer from diseases, famine and have no shelters. Extreme poverty is no foundation for happiness.
A person is wealthy or not wealthy according to his desires or ambitions. A man who works, earns a certain income that enables him to buy the basic necessities and is contented is likely to live more happily than a person who earns a lot but craves for much more and engages in illegal activities to amass more. People who looted public funds in the scandal called cashgate were not facing starvation. They just wanted bigger piles. When they are convicted, the pleasure and happiness they wanted from lucre will vanish.
To maintain or enhance happiness in Malawi, certain conditions must exist or continue to prevail. First and foremost all people, officials and private ones must respect the law and the constitution. Those who hold power should not abuse it. private citizens must respect authority that is installed according to the constitution.
On May 20 2014, we are going to have presidential and parliamentary elections. Will there be landslides or clear majorities? With four parties looking equally popular it is difficult to predict which party or presidential candidates will triumph. Should there be disputes, we should agree in advance how we are going to settle them. This is not a case where you say why cross the bridge before you reach it, but fore-warned is fore-armed. As in the days of scouting and girl guides, we must be prepared.