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The Irrationality of Unhappiness and the Paradox of Despair

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The Irrationality of Unhappiness and the Paradox of Despair

In her article "The Irrationality of Unhappiness and the Paradox of Despair", Sarah Buss introduces how unhappiness is an irrational emotion and how it is portrayed as despair. She states that this form has a paradoxical structure and explains why people should avoid it. Buss also argues that despair is a pervasive form of unhappiness; therefore concluding in the idea that we must do what we can to avoid unhappiness. I intend to elaborate on Buss's argument of what unhappiness consists of, the premises it contains, and conclusions. I will then point out what I think is the area in Buss's argument that is inconsistent with her thesis, that all unhappiness is a realization that we're failing to meet our ideals, our despair is paradoxical. Finally, I will argue and defend this position in presenting different examples that are seen in everyday life that show the inconsistency the argument has. Sometimes the paradox of despair may not correlate with all of our unhappiness.

Sarah Buss first brings up that unhappiness is the failure of not reading one's own personal ideals. "Happiness and Unhappiness are not mere qualitative states. Each has a cognitive, as well as an effective component. We are (un)happy about (or with) our condition: and we believe that our situation warrants the feeling of (dis)satisfaction it generates"(169). Buss presents personal ideals vary from person to person. This reaction amongst us happens as a result of encountering our own experiences. Buss expresses personal ideals as conditions to be realized. These conditions to be realized are what we

perceive ourselves to be and will lead to the characteristics that we believe we should have by the condition we believe we are in. These personal ideals represent our conceptions of what the "good" life is for us. The "good" part of life again varies from person to person depending on what experiences we have encountered and what we have been taught to visualize things as. Buss then presents that evolving self-conceptions influence our conceptions of what is valuable to us. Depending on what these values consist of, it is possible to predict our reactions to the situation and how we view it as resulting in our unhappiness or not.

Buss then presents the claim that despair is unhappiness combined with the belief that we cannot achieve the goal or ideal we want to obtain. Despair is a type of unhappiness and "the structure that all cases of unhappiness have in common: the unhappy person is unhappy that the reality of her situation falls short of her personal ideals. When one believes, that in addition, that this gap cannot be closed any further, than their unhappiness has the form of despair"(174). Here Buss presents the definition of despair. According to Buss, unhappiness is irrational if personal ideals are irrational. We become unhappy if what happens to falls short of our personal ideals. We have to hope in something attainable, and that is possible to achieve. What we take to matter in itself is irrelevant to our own happiness. We must differentiate a personal ideal that doesn't harm one, from the good things to which one is committed in such a way as to be made happy by their realization and unhappy by the absence of it.

Buss then introduces the topic of despair having a paradoxical form. Within this is the challenge of self-conception we individually face within ourselves. Even if we do realize that our self-conception is false, it is hard to adapt to a new self-conception.

"After all, our self-conception, and the self - dentifications they imply are not wholly responsive to our will: we cannot simply decide to be someone else once we realize that we are mistaken about who we really are"(178), Despair is a considered to be a paradox by Buss. A paradox is an inconsistency or contradiction within the argument being presented. Buss gives us the example of a woman who losses her son, as in death. Buss presents the two conceptions that were brought about from the woman are that her son is dead, and that she cannot view herself as her son's mother anymore. The two conceptions have a confliction with each other. Is she unhappy about her son's death? Or is she unhappy about what she views herself as? This is how despair can be defined in realistic terms.

Following this concept, Sarah Buss presents that there is a pervasive form of unhappiness. Buss claims that what we think of what ought to be is different of what must be. We confront this in our goal settings throughout our lives. "In other words, one is unhappy about the fact that one cannot have two things at once, each of which is, one thinks, essential to one living a good life. One is unhappy because one does not believe that it is possible to realize this ideal condition" (185). Buss identifies that there is a conflict in achievement of certain goals. If one cannot achieve multiple goals, which are important to one's life, then that individual gives up hope in thinking that this situation is ideal.

Buss's argument continues in stating the despair is the most common type of unhappiness. "I believe that all unhappiness takes this form. For again, I cannot I could not see how there can be negative emotional states that deserve to be called "unhappiness" despite lacking the goal-oriented structure I have tried to describe; I could

not make sense of the idea that someone could be unhappy about something if one's unhappiness had nothing to do with one's expectations"(183). Buss believes that this paradox is the main stronghold of one's emotional life. Branching off of this concept, we often see ourselves being unhappy



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