Slavoj Zizek wrote the following thought about happiness.
“What makes us happy is not to get what we want. But to dream about it. Happiness is for opportunists. So I think that the only life of deep satisfaction is a life of eternal struggle, especially struggle with oneself. We all remember Gordon Gekko, the role played by Michael Douglas in Wall Street. What he says, breakfast is for wimps, or if you need a friend buy yourself a dog, I think we should say something similar about happiness. If you want to remain happy, just remain stupid. Authentic masters are never happy; happiness is a category of slaves.” (The Guardian)
What is he referring to and what exactly is his thought? I believe he is referring to the West’s ideology, especially the idea of “pursuit of happiness.” He is suggesting that “opportunists” or big business and government take advantage of folks who chase dreams or follow their bliss or attempt to “be all you can be.” One might think that the creative person following his/her bliss is doing the right thing in a democracy where individuality is the big idea. Well, perhaps, but it is more complicated because many get distracted. Let us take someone wanting to be an artist as an example.
Today, this person takes private lessons as a young person, draws at home every chance he/she gets. This person decides to go to art school for college. First, parents, relatives, and friends advise against the move. “How are you going to survive? How will you make money?” These ideas bombard the person, and this is where (for so many) the compromise begins and the distraction leads them to a place they really didn’t want to go. The art school has recently changed its name from “Art College” to “Art and Design College.” The young dreamer goes to the college and learns a little art but mostly learns design, leaves college and gets a studio but needs a job. Tapping into the designer side of his skills, the young artist gets a job. With the job comes money to rent an apartment, buy a car, attract a mate, and the art work becomes a weekend get-away or even a Sunday afternoon hobby. This is where the art student kisses dreams of an “authentic master” goodbye and says hello to the “happy” “stupid” “slave,” according to Zizek. And I think he has a point.
What Zizek is suggesting is that the authentic master doesn’t get distracted but makes sacrifices for his/her art. The authentic master stays focused. His/Her life is one of a struggle to fail better as Beckett might say. Zizek suggests that this is true of even the big capitalists and so could be also perhaps of a designer who sets out to be the next Ralph Lauren. There is suffering to embrace and recognize as part of not being a “wimp.” Zizek is always teaching and here he is telling any who are listening how our ideology works to keep people down and distracted, happy, and doing what the elite rulers want: The psychology of ideology at work. (The elite rulers are not the authentic artists but the political and financial rulers that the authentic master ignores.) The deal for the easily distracted goes something like this. “You remain stupid and a slave, and we will keep you distracted (from uncomfortable thoughts), ‘happy’ as you like to say.” Voila Disneyland and professional sports.