Happiness as a Goal: How to Attain it!

I have been having a really long discussion with a cherished friend and companion about the complex nature of happiness… we have been trying to understand what it means. I have received from her a wonderful write-up on the topic… but each time, I have had this nibbling at the back of my mind… it was some excepts from Fulton Sheen’s book The Way of Happiness.

Aristotle and Aquinas had already written much on the notion of Eudaimonia (happiness. Aristotle was of the opinion that no one tries to live well for the sake of some further goal; rather, being eudaimon is the highest end, and all subordinate goals—health, wealth, and other such resources—are sought because they promote well-being, not because they are what well-being consists in. Hence to Aristotle, happiness was the end to which all beings tend. Aquinas extended this to mean it was the Beatific Vision. But the questions really are… Is happiness a goal? Can we simply find it if we set our sights on it? Is there a price for happiness to be attained?

In his book, The Way to Happiness. Archbishop Fulton Sheen provides an apt understanding of pleasure and why when human make pleasure their goal without considering its by-product, they inevitably wind up more unhappy. This is an extract… a real treasure:


We all want happiness. We should all take the sensible step of learning that there are three laws of pleasure which, if followed, will make the attainment of happiness immeasurably easier.

The first law: If you are ever to have a good time, you cannot plan your life to include nothing but good times Pleasure is like beauty; it is conditioned by contrast. A woman who wants to show off her black velvet dress will not, if she is wise, stand against a black curtain, but against a white backdrop. She wants the contrast. Fireworks would not delight us if they were shot off against a background of fire, or the blaze of the noonday sun; they need to stand out against the darkness. Lilies bring us a special pleasure because their petals rise, surprisingly, on the waters of foul ponds. Contrast is needed to help us see each thing as being vividly itself.

Pleasure by the same principle, is best enjoyed when it comes to us as a “treat,” in contrast to experiences that are less pleasurable. We make a great mistake if we try to have all our nights party-night. No on would enjoy Thanksgiving if every meal were a turkey dinner. New Year’s Eve would not delight us if the whistles blew at midnight every night.

Fun rests on contrast, and so does the enjoyment of a funny situation…

Our enjoyment of life is vastly increased if we follow the spiritual injunction to bring some mortification and self denial into our lives. This practice saves us from being jaded; it preserves the tang and joy of living. The harp strings of our lives are not thin, made slack by being pulled until they are out of tune; instead we tighten them and help preserve their harmony.

The second law: Pleasure is deepened and enhanced when it has survived a moment of tedium or pain: this law helps us to make our prized pleasure last for whole lifetime. To do so, we must keep going at anything we do until we get our second wind. One enjoys a mountain-climb more after passing through the first moment of discouraged exhaustion. One becomes more interested in a job or work after the first impulse to drop it has been overcome.

In the same way, marriages become more stable only after disillusionment has brought the honeymoon to an end. The great value of the marital vow is in keeping the couple together during the first quarrel; it tides them over their early period of resentment,
until they get the second wind of true happiness at being together. Marriage joys, like all great joys, are born out of some pain. As we must crack the nut to taste the sweet so, in the spiritual life, the cross must be the prelude to the crown.

The third law: Pleasure is a by-product, not a goal. Happiness must be our bridesmaid, not our bride. Many people make the great mistake of aiming directly at pleasure; they forget that pleasure comes only from the fulfillment of some duty or obedience to a law – for man is made to obey the laws of his own nature as inescapably as he must obey the laws of gravity. A boy has pleasure eating ice cream because he is fulfilling one of the “oughts” of human nature: eating. If he eats more ice cream than the laws of his body sanction, he will not longer get the pleasure he seeks, but the pain of a stomach ache. To seek pleasure, regardless of law, is to miss it

Shall we start with pleasure or end with it? There are two answers to the question: the Christian and the pagan. The Christian says, “Begin with the fast and end with the feast, and you will really savor it.” The pagan says, “Begin with the feast and end with the morning-after headache.”


Pro-Poor Politics

Unfortunately, my confusion grows… so there is actually such a thing as pro-poor politics! The fact that I am confused should not in the least be surprising when one considers that I derive my foundation from the Athenian intellectual tradition where the primary focus of thought was the State, rather than the individual, and the all thinking on politics or economics stressed the political solidar­ity of society.  In the Republic for example Plato writes that  “A State, . . . arises… out of the needs of mankind; no one is self-sufficing, but all of us have many wants. . . . Then, as we have many wants, and many persons are needed to supply them, one takes a helper for one purpose and another for another; and when these partners and helpers are gathered together in one habita­tion the body of inhabitants is termed a State. . . . And they exchange with one another, and one gives, and another receives, under the idea that the exchange will be for their good.” The origin of the state therefore, is as a result of the absence of individual self-sufficiency in the satisfaction of wants.

Coming after Plato, Aristotle took another perspective to make the same point, indicating the importance of interdependence of everyone in the city state. Aristotle in Politics Book 1 pt. 2 points out that “… the state is by nature clearly prior to the family and to the individual, since the whole is of necessity prior to the part; for example, if the whole body be destroyed, there will be no foot or hand, except in an equivocal sense, as we might speak of a stone hand. . . . The proof that the state is a creation of nature and prior to the individual is that the individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing; and therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole.”
If one were to go by these arguments, it becomes difficult not to conclude that society should be structured in such a way that every action benefits everyone. This could be done by applying laws that are progressive and that once implemented at the State level inevitably trickles down to every person. Unfortunately, the reality is not the case today in most developing countries where the elites consider themselves to be ‘above’ the State and actions that should have been carried out for the benefit of the state as a whole and where not carried out ( or carried out in such a way that leads to the fulfillment of the selfish interests of the Elites, at the detriment of the poor) are today being carried out with the tag  – Pro-Poor. Is it actually for the poor or is it done to prevent the poor being a problem to the welfare of the elites?

Before the lectures and discussions this week, I had this question going through my mind. Is pro-poor politics an end itself – the welfare of the poor – or is it a means to an end – getting the poor in a better situation that will reduce the possibility of them being a problem to the rich? I was more convinced there was need to look beyond the idea to the reality because Locke’s words kept re-echoing in my mind

The gap between our ideas and words about the world, and the world itself, is large and difficult, but still, if one man calls something good, while another man calls it evil, the deed or man referred to still has real qualities of good or evil, the categories exist in the world regardless of our names for them, and if one man’s word does not correspond to another mans word, this a problem of communication, not fundamental arbitrariness in reality.

Hence the bottom-line should be “good politics” – to call it ‘pro-poor’ or any other name does not change the effects of the action carried out. There is no gainsaying the fact that a hospital or good sanitation facilities provided in a poor neighbourhood benefits the poor but what is not noticed or spoken is that it also frees the rich from drudgery of having to think of a cholera outbreak that will not discriminate between poor and rich.

When I was reading through Moore and Putzel’s (2001) paper, I was fascinated by the ease with which they presented the arguments relating to pro-poor policy making. I could not help questioning some of their conclusions/assumptions:

First they feel that democracy has differential outcomes for the poor. The first problem I found with this assumption was the lack of delineation of what they meant by ‘poverty’. Are they discussing absolute poverty or relative poverty? These distinctions will go a long way to change some of the broad conclusions they arrived at. Secondly, the term democracy is used there loosely to simply mean ‘providing people with a framework to vote for their leaders’ – but is that really what democracy is all about? While I will like to agree with them (especially going by the illustration given of Kamataka and Andhra Pradesh) that the nature of politics has different effects on the poor, I however could not fail to notice that they only succeeded in pointing to what was obvious and illustrating these with examples. The question should  not be what name a particular system of politics or governance is called but how much it impacts on the life of the people as a whole. Hence I totally agree with them that making accomplishments in poverty reduction a criterion for legitimacy of governments will be a wonderful idea. Unfortunately the problem arises about how to measure these accomplishments. Who will be the arbiter and who are those involved in the presentation of evidence? Will it be the poor themselves?

According to Chipi (2010)

“…the adoption of democratic institutions does not alone suggest a change in elite behaviour or in the actions they take. The persistence of poverty reflects its institutionalization within social and political norms as well as institutions and its acceptance within political discourse. Hence, noble agendas – such as empowerment of the poor, or increased political space for the poor to participate in – offer very little promise if the elites who are required to adopt and implement these institutions are anyhow ignored.”

While I agree entirely with the first part of her argument, I question very much the logic of the concluding part because experience has shown that there may well be some situations where the elites are not required to ‘adopt’ and ‘implement’ institutions. In most cases, they tend to be inimical to the whole process of empowerment of the poor. The reason I think is that, having being established as a ruling class, most of the elites in poor countries generally enrich themselves at the public’s expense through public graft and corruption as well as deals with foreign capitalists. For example Fanon presents this situation prosaically that;

By dint of yearly loans, concessions are snatched up by foreigners: scandals are numerous, ministers grow rich, their wives doll themselves up, the members of parliament feather their nest and there is not a soul down to the simple policeman or the custom officer who does not join in the great procession of corruption.”(1963:165-66)

In Nigeria, for example, Njoko points out that “The present political economy has largely succeeded in erecting greedy an affluent politicians and a listless, scarred public. In fact, the myth that is a way of African life has to be abandoned. Our experience so far is that the government, the politician, is the greatest armed robber, victimiser or oppressor in Nigeria.”  (2004:91) The issue  remains unclear whether there is such a thing as pro-poor or whether policies aimed at the poor are simply part of a political agenda.

Later following Chipi’s presentation, the picture became a bit clear. When she narrated the story of a ‘poor’ woman who called a parliamentarian and asked her to pay her child’s school fees, I said to myself that this should be a really good situation where the poor can talk directly to the Elites and ask them for favours. One thing however that I am yet to clearly understand is if whether everyone has access to the private numbers of parliamentarians in Malawi. Since this will obviously not be the case, I will certainly not be wrong to conclude that one has to belong to a certain class to have access to such privy information. Another thing that I succeeded in getting both from her (2010) paper and her presentation is that the general consensus seems that pro-poor policies are for the poor a privilege, rather a right to  mutually beneficial governance.

I don’t know if you notice what I have just noticed myself… my confusion seems to be waning a bit! What I cannot fail to realise also however, is the fact that I keep having this agitation in my heart as I discuss this issue of poverty. The reason is simple… it’s a road I have walked and I am not discussing it as a merely academic exercise but it is almost like an evaluation of the paths I have trod. No wonder I look forward so much to the discussion next week of Elites, Politics and Development…

Chipiliro K.N  2010. Mutual Interdependence between Elites and the Poor Working Paper No. 2010/117 World Institute for Development Economic Research

Fanon, F. 1963. The wretched of the Earth, New York: Grove Press,

Njoku, O.C 2004. Development and African Philosophy: A Theoretical Reconstruction of African Socio-Political Economy, New York: iUniverse, Inc.

Introduction: Theories of Political Development

Unbelievable… is a word commonly used when there is every reason to believe (and very little or no reason to doubt). I now realise this with a higher degree of force as I begin to write on this blog. This is something that I would not in my dreams have thought possible a couple of years ago. If you have travelled the road I have, then you will be in a good position to understand what I am saying.

I wouldn’t say it is the most difficult road, but I am sure it has not been easy. When I look back over the years and see many who had the same dreams I had (and still have) of impacting the world in a very positive way, but stumbled along the way because of the very structures they had hoped to change, I cannot but ask questions about many things… for to ask questions is but natural to any rational being. As Aristotle rightly put it “Si philosophandum est, philosophandum est; si non est philosophandum, philosophandum est, nemper ad ostendendum quia non philosophandum est; ergo, philosophandum est”. (If we must philosophise then we must philosophise:  if we wish not to philosophise then we must philosophise. Never can it be thought that we should not philosophise for on account of this we must philosophise)

If politics is ‘the central and dominant variable determining…developmental success or failure’ then I cannot help but remember the same Aristotle’s argument that “If the earlier forms of society are natural, so is the state, for it is the end of them, and the nature of a thing is its end. For what each thing is when fully developed, we call its nature… Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal.” This argument, so beautifully crafted in that book called ‘The Politics’ makes me realise that I cannot escape from being political without causing serious injury to myself  because it will involve denying the quintessence of my being – which of course is an ontological impossibility.

For if you happen  grow up  in a society where the people have been so impoverished, dehumanised and reduced to near total dependence on the production and shipment of necessary goods from foreign, distant and greedy lands and when its own products remain unmarketable and devalued, when that quality of life is normalised, then, philosophandum est. When there is so much to do to catch up with the rest of the world and yet nothing much is being done, when the job of a developing or underdeveloped continent is barely begun and the work force is idle and jobless – with work to do and people to do it and still nothing done – then philosophandum est. When some sections of the world are enjoying the benefits of convergence and all one sees is fragmentation and decay, then, philosophandum est. When the failure of organisation and governance resulting from the overthrow of primordial societal structures is imminent and chaos and anarchy stare at people in the face, then philosophandum est. When the only popularity a people get is about civil war, corruption, struggles for secession, sit-tight ‘democracies’, election and post-election violence, and when it seems this is fast becoming a way of life, then, philosphandum est. When a people have been traumatised by alien occupation, an alien occupation of their minds, more than exploitation of their natural resources, when their self confidence is so thoroughly undermined and their identity devalued, then philosophandum est.

Within the next ten weeks I am going to be processing so much information using the winepress of critical judgment and expressing them here. I hope that by the end of ten weeks I will either understand more about Development Politics or be more confused – which would not be a bad idea though – since it will also be sign that I am learning.

This has been the first week, and it is an introduction to development politics. (Or should I say to 21st century Development politics or better still Post World War II Development Politics?) I seem to be confused already!!! Maybe I did not know exactly what to expect. It was a wonderful starting point though since the lecture acted as a resume for several theories that I had initially encountered in Critical Approaches to Development. It was a good feeling to have the opportunity to reflect again on certain aspects of Modernisation, Dependency, Neo-liberal and Post-development theories.

The emphasis on the link between development and p0litics is not lost to me. I was really elated at the notion that Political development is at the heart of social science and political philosophy. Unfortunately, my joy was short-lived as I began to question what ‘political development’ actually is and tried to grasp this in relation to the different theories I have recently learned. As I tried to overcome this difficulty in the course of the week by searching for what sages have said on the subject, I realised to my chagrin that they also had a problem – lack of epistemic interdependence – for “It seems apparent that the implicit theorising by economists about political development and of political scientists about economic development should be replaced by more explicit attempts to develop an integrated theory of political and economic development…”1 Could this be the solution to the problem of fragmentation and parcelling-out of knowledge? I am sure I will move a step forward towards getting answers to some of this as I struggle to grapple with understanding why they had to be separated in the first place. Exploring and understanding the ‘Primacy of Politics’ for development in the coming week will be crucial to my understanding how development can also shape politics.