Another post on an Atlantic article, this one by Joshua Wolf Shenk about what makes us happy.
David Brooks wrote a column on it.
What I liked so much about this essay, and about Vaillant, is the recognition that the complexity of human psychology, the complexity of coping and adapting to the challenges life throws up, makes relationships or “social aptitude” no simple thing. Vaillant points out that even the most “mature” strategies for adapting to disappointment, injury, or failure can strain our most intimate, sustaining relationships. And the reality of relationships over time tends to call for defenses that can threaten relationships. A positive, outgoing person may love freely and easily, but then become shattered by betrayal. Then what do you do? Steel yourself for the possibility of future pain by keeping some part of yourself private and out of the way? But then what have you done to your capacity to be nourished by intimacy and love? A lifetime of rich relationships is not easy and therefore neither is the best kind of life.
Henry Farrell on the Brooks piece:
That there are things about human lives – who succeeds, who fails, who dies early, who dies late, who is happy, who is sad – which don’t yield to social scientific analysis, nor yet the stereotypes of normal conversation, is inarguably true. But people’s lives are also, inarguably, greatly affected by the structural conditions that they are born into. And the essay that Brooks likes not only affirms the importance of structures like race and class, but points to the very clear limits of the Harvard study.
More when I find it.
UPDATE: James Poulos:
Freud sought to fathom those patterns, cues, characters, and stages, to recognize — and to cause us to recognize — the unity of ourselves, our indivisible I. But to do this Freud had to lower that I, casting it as a besieged fragment or negotiated demilitarized zone between a Super-I above and an It below. “It” is a very unscientific name. In an attempt to beat back the horror of infinite possibility raised by the It, Freud posited a sort of Super-It, a countervailing desire for final finitude: the ‘death instinct.’ There was not much of a ‘life instinct’, in and of itself, in Freud; to be happy was to be successful in one’s techniques of ratcheting neurosis down to manageable levels. Freud was one of our least optimistic partisans of durability.