Through a Jungian Lens

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The Myth of Happiness

with 26 comments

Here is another photo from the cloud forest near Santa Elena, Costa Rica that has a sense of darkness, a sense of hidden spaces and places.  Looking closely there is little doubt that this is a beautiful place, but one that is also filled with suffering and sorrow, filled with darkness.  I guess I could say that it is an honest photo of what life is really about, what life should really be about.

This is a different scene from that of the sunny beaches and palm trees, where the birds bask in bright light.  Living in the sunny zone, I have come to realise that it isn’t all happiness here.  All around me there is incredible dysfunction.  My neighbours have hookers and johns for friends.  As a result, we are getting to know these people, including the hookers and johns, better.  Beneath their tragic lives I glimpse something beautiful but broken.  Why do so many with wealth and privilege come to such desperate straits?  What have they lost along the way of their lives?

More importantly for me is the question, “Why am I not as happy as I should be?”   I have everything that I need and want.  I don’t lack for financial security.  I have the freedom of movement and expression and a good home in a safe country.  I have healthy and secure children with their own homes and young families.  I have it all.  Yet, I don’t.

Instinct cannot be freed without freeing the mind, just as the mind divorced from instinct is condemned to futility.  Not that the tie between mind and instinct is necessarily a harmonious one.  On the contrary it is full of conflict and means suffering.  Therefore the principle aim of psychotherapy is not to transport the patient to an impossible state of happiness, but to help him acquire steadfastness and philosophical patience in face of suffering.  Life demands for its completion and fulfilment a balance between joy and sorrow. (Jung, CW 16, par 185)

What?  Happiness is impossible?  Two days ago while sitting and waiting for a bus to travel from Puntarenas to Playa Jacó at a small outdoor restaurant, I was listening to that old song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”  The mad quest for happiness is causing more grief that joy.  Maybe it is okay not to be happy.  Maybe it is okay to not be in full flight from the shadows within that seek to destroy the satisfaction and complacency of midlife and later.  Again, it call comes down to balance.  Even resorting to psychotherapy and  analysis won’t result in life as a state of bliss – perpetual bliss or happiness is not a state of psychological health as it isn’t a state of balance.


26 Responses

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  1. Robert,
    You have touched a nerve here. From the context it seems you use the term “myth” in the title of this post to mean a fiction, something not true. Media uses the term as you use it. However, this usage takes us away from and dilutes, to our loss, how we need to understand the term “myth.” Here is how Joseph Campbell defines the four functions of myth:
    “The four are:
    A. “ The first function of a living mythology, the properly religious function, in the sense of Rudolf Otto’s definition in The Idea of the Holy, is to awaken and maintain in the individual an experience of awe, humility, and respect, in recognition of that ultimate mystery, transcending names and forms, ‘from which,’ as we read in the Upanishads, ‘words turn back.”
    B. The second is the cosmological, “…to render a cosmology, an image of the universe, and for this we all turn today, of course, not to archaic religious texts but science.”
    C. The third function “…is the enforcement of a moral order: the shaping of the individual to the requirements of his geographically and historically conditioned social group”.
    D. The fourth and most vital, most critical function of a mythology, then “is to foster the centering and unfolding of the individual in integrity, in accord with d) himself (the microcosm), c) his culture (the mesocosm), b) the universe (the macrocosm), and a) that awesome ultimate mystery which is both beyond and within himself and all things:
    Wherefrom words turn back,
    Together with the mind, having not attained.”

    Campbell, quoting Loren Eiseley, says that we, as individuals, are on our own:

    “…there is no way by which Utopias – or the lost Garden itself – can be brought out of the future and presented to man. Neither can he go forward to such a destiny. Since in the world of time every man lives but one life, it is in himself that he must search for the secret of the Garden.”


    February 23, 2010 at 7:02 am

    • You are correct, that is the intent of the use of the word “myth” in this post. Why? Well, as you mentioned, it is how media and most ordinary people understand the word. I do understand the richer meaning that you so kindly posted here and accept that as something vital. But that said, communication for understanding is what I hope for here. I deliberately choose words and approaches in order to be understood. Now with your addition to the post, it is possible to expand on the meaning of “myth” without loosing the meaning of the blog post itself. Thanks, JF.

      Robert G. Longpré

      February 23, 2010 at 8:02 am

      • From Sharp’s Lexicon:

        “Myth. An involuntary collective statement based on an unconscious psychic experience.

        The primitive mentality does not invent myths, it experiences them. Myths are original revelations of the preconscious psyche . . . . Many of these unconscious processes may be indirectly occasioned by consciousness, but never by conscious choice. Others appear to arise spontaneously, that is to say, from no discernible or demonstrable conscious cause.[“The Psychology of the Child Archetype,” ibid., par. 261.]”


        February 23, 2010 at 8:33 am

      • Good stuff, JF. Just a note for all readers here that Sharp’s Lexicon and two other books, Digesting Jung and Chicken Little are available as free downloads from Daryl Sharp’s Inner City Books website at: Daryl is the author of all three of these books. Note that there are about 13 other books by Sharp at this site as well as books by John Dourley, James Hollis, James Hall, Marie-Louise von Franz, Edinger and a host of other Jungian analysts.

        Robert G. Longpré

        February 23, 2010 at 8:59 am

  2. There is something magical about happiness, the way is appears in the oddest of places and for the strangest of reasons. We can’t hold it; like the wind it comes and goes where it wants, not where we want.
    I remember single moments of happiness like a jewels in a crown: my wedding day and my father’s look of deep joy, quiet moments of incidental happiness like sitting on a camp stool,very early one morning when camping in Glastonbury and realising I was happy without any reason….the moments come and go and flee when we chase them..


    February 23, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    • It is this magic that advertising seeks to cash in on . . . if only you buy this, then you will get happiness as a gift as well . . . we are so desperate for happiness as if our failure to get this would mean that we are failures as humans. Thanks, Viv.

      Robert G. Longpré

      February 23, 2010 at 5:17 pm

      • It is indeed.
        In some ways success is an easier goal than happiness, because it has a definite end point.
        There are plenty of days when I’d be quite content to settle for no-pain. Peace of mind is a close second in feel-good points to happiness and it’s less fleeting and more achievable.


        February 24, 2010 at 6:57 am

      • Well spoken,Viv. You have a good way of expressing reality, a reality that admits to both dark and light.

        Robert G. Longpré

        February 24, 2010 at 7:39 am

      • Thanks Robert!


        February 25, 2010 at 11:12 am

  3. Happiness is snuggled up in a quiet spot within you.

    You need only be still and silent and allow it to

    unfold until it eventually engulfs you.

    Live Life Happy!

    • Hi Jacqueline. Happiness is fleeting and real. It isn’t an end goal, it is part of the package of being consciously present, as much a part as is sorrow. Welcome to the discussions here.

      Robert G. Longpré

      February 23, 2010 at 8:36 pm

  4. Robert,
    I isolate this bit: ““Why am I not as happy as I should be?”

    How does one determine how happy one “should be?” What are the standards, the measuring points?


    February 25, 2010 at 9:50 am

    • Maybe: “as happy as one would like to be”?


      February 25, 2010 at 11:12 am

      • This sounds good, Viv.

        Robert G. Longpré

        February 25, 2010 at 1:04 pm

      • But consider the destructive aspect of the anorexic or bulimic who is not “as happy as one would like to be.”


        February 25, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    • For the average person, the expectation of happiness is based on the promises by media. The assumption is that if you do it right, you will be happy. If you buy the right car, TV, computer, cell phone, etc., happiness is included. If that doesn’t work, take a happy pill or join a happy group. If it still doesn’t work, go see a shrink to get fixed. Somehow I get the feeling there is more misery on this planet because too many “expect” that they are owed happiness and that it is someone else’s fault if that happiness isn’t forthcoming. Blame it on the commies, on the immigrants both legal and illegal, blame it on the bankers, the cops, the politicians … but never take ownership for where and how one finds one’s self. Now, it is blame the parents, blame the boss, blame the economy …. all are caught in a web of collective and personal projections.

      Robert G. Longpré

      February 25, 2010 at 1:02 pm

  5. maybe its better not to be happy at all, jf.


    February 25, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    • Oh no, the point is to become aware of what makes one as an individual happy, as opposed to cultural/collective collective concepts of what defines happiness. How many people today are depressed because they cannot obtain the “things” that the culture says we need to happy? Sony would have me believe that buying one of their 52″ plasma tvs would make me forever happy and solve all of my problems. Or, would a BMW do the trick?


      February 25, 2010 at 2:16 pm

      • well if you’re buying me one, i won’t say no….


        February 25, 2010 at 2:26 pm

  6. Happiness is an archetype.


    February 25, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    • Jf and Viv, here is an interesting article worth taking a look at: I wish that I would have seen this before – very interesting.

      Robert G. Longpré

      February 25, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    • “Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz
      My friends all drive Porches; I must make amends
      Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends
      Oh Lord, wont’ you buy me a Mercedes Benz!”


      February 25, 2010 at 4:10 pm

      • He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven
        ~William Butler Yeats~

        Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
        Enwrought with golden and silver light,
        The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
        Of night and light and the half-light,
        I would spread the cloths under your feet:
        But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
        I have spread my dreams under your feet;
        Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.


        February 25, 2010 at 4:43 pm

  7. […] February 26, 2010 by viv66 Following an interesting comments discussion resulting from a rather intriguing post over at: […]

  8. “…, let them take it,
    For there’s more enterprise in walking naked!”


    February 26, 2010 at 5:58 am

    • I made my song a coat
      Covered with embroideries
      Out of old mythologies
      From heel to throat;
      But the fools caught it,
      Wore it in the world’s eyes
      As though they’d wrought it.
      Son, let them take it,
      For there’s more enterprise
      In walking naked.
      … Yeats

      Beautiful, Viv. Thanks!

      Robert G. Longpré

      February 26, 2010 at 7:00 am

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