YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 10, 2013

The pursuit of happiness, co-counseling, and reality-testing

happinessTimeThe following links are relevant to this blog. I especially recommend the song “A Sunny Disposish” available on YouTube, lyric by Ira Gershwin.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/fashion/After-a-Parents-Death-a-Rush-of-Change-modern-love.html?_r&_r=0.

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2146449,00.html

http://historypsychiatry.com/2013/11/10/the-geography-of-depression/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/11/07/a-stunning-map-of-depression-rates-around-the-world/?tid=pm_world_pop

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-counselling

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJEWLnblbzc  (“A Sunny Disposish”)

Why do you suppose that the ever popular Over the Rainbow was nearly dropped from The Wizard of Oz? Could some mean-spirited Republican have sensed that Yip Harburg the lyricist was a Red, pushing utopias? Or could the song have contradicted the major message of the film: that rural life on the farm was filled with attachments that surpassed those of the Emerald City? Why, after all, did Judy Garland want to get away and pursue happiness elsewhere? (See comment below that argues I am wrong, that she always wanted to get home. But the lyrics betray a yearning for something else: some earthly or heavenly utopia? Maybe that is why it was nearly dropped, assuming that my facts are correct.)

I could ask the same question of the song I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, a Vaudeville song from 1918 suggesting disillusion with the promise of American life. (See lyrics here: https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/ retitled Film Noir, decoded.) The bluebird of happiness motif is reproduced in the Harburg-Lane hit song, first heard in the Depression year of 1939.

The Declaration of Independence built its polemical foundation on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but never guaranteed that such an outcome of universal happiness would be the case for everyone. Hence, the popular culture emphasis on romantic yearning, laments for lost loves, or admonitions to be happy, lest you lose the regard of your friends and family, not to speak of success in “the community.”

Life is hard, attachments are fraught with ambivalence, and frequent sadness should not be diagnosed as a personality disorder. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysthymia.  Or perhaps I am mistaken and am really a neurotic (formerly called a melancholic), in danger of sinking into a serious depression that could fill my horizon with utter darkness.

Anyone can play.

Anyone can play.

I don’t mean this to be a long blog, so let me end with this anecdote from my two years as a volunteer faculty member at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, where I spent a lot of time after my divorce in the early 1970s. It was rather a hippie outfit, very counter-culture with revolution in the air, along with marijuana smoke, faculty sanctioned jerking off, critical theory, and Kierkegaard. “Co-Counseling” was all the rage. The idea was to cut out professionals, and engage each member of the dyad (male-female pair only) with another suffering person. You would hold hands, gaze into each other’s eyes, and take turns in talking about earlier traumas to your partner. Then after an hour of spewing forth painful memories, the partner got a turn dredging up the past and you had to focus on what you were hearing. This was considered to be revolutionary and a substitute for “the talking cure.”

Several faculty marriages broke up during that time, while a few partners in co-counseling married each other. My theory: no one had ever listened (or pretended to listen) to the co-counselors for such an extended period before, and without interruptions or otherwise cutting them short, changing the subject, or falling asleep. The partners (supposedly) never lost focus, or at least that was how they were perceived.

I told this story to my son-in-law and he laughed his head off. It is so true. Changing the subject is what we do and what we experience evermore as a result of the internet, mass media, and the Progressive imperative to be optimistic, to maintain “a sunny disposish” at all times, lest we found ourselves “All Alone” like those hapless Americans who have had their health insurance cancelled by Federal fiat.

Bless you, Irving Berlin and every other songwriter who reminded us to “Remember.”

For more on this subject see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/03/eros-and-the-problem-of-solidarity/, and https://clarespark.com/2013/05/10/losing-focus-and-mass-media/.

positive state

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3 Comments »

  1. On “Over the Rainbow”: the facts are much simpler: (from IMDB): “… MGM felt that it made the Kansas sequence too long, as well as being too far over the heads of the children for whom it was intended. The studio also thought that it was degrading for Judy Garland to sing in a barnyard.”

    And: she didn’t “want to get away and pursue happiness elsewhere?” (Judy might have, but Dotrothy was sort of carried along by events.) Dorothy was fixed on getting home from the start.

    The Time headline may have a clue: the excitement, the exhilaration, is in the pursuit, not necessarily in reaching the goal.

    (In another story of the search for happiness (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”), the studio wanted the song “Moon River” dropped. Hepburn said, “Over my dead body” – the song was written especially for her limited vocal range.)

    gdp makes a good point: The Founder’s “happiness” is vastly different from ours today. The correlation between “happiness” and success, or position, or power, is insubstantial – as a glance at the gossip pages will show.

    Only the foolish are perpetually happy. To do that means to lose all definition by way of having no comparison.

    Comment by lectorconstans — November 26, 2013 @ 3:43 am | Reply

  2. The meaning of the word “happiness” has changed substantially since the time of the Founders. The original meaning was something more nearly akin to “fulfillment” or “satisfaction,” with a strong element of “self-actualization.” “Happiness” was to them a “state of existence,” not the giddy emotion we now refer to.

    Even older meanings (14th Century) were “lucky, favored by fortune, prosperous.”

    See e.g., http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=happy , and http://faculty.smcm.edu/mstaber/etymhapp.htm for more detail.

    Comment by gdp — November 12, 2013 @ 3:32 pm | Reply

    • That would explain the change from “life, liberty, and property” to pursuit of happiness. Thanks.

      Comment by clarelspark — November 12, 2013 @ 3:41 pm | Reply


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