“We all want to be happy, we want our children to be happy, and there are countless books advising us how to achieve happiness. But is this really what we should be aiming for?... I want to begin with three fairly obvious propositions that are also misgivings about the right to happiness or its pursuit. And I’d like to suggest that the right to frustration may be more useful and interesting – more enlivening – than the right to happiness. That’s to say I want to waylay the common, all-too-plausible idea that the solution to frustration is satisfaction, or that happiness is the answer to unhappiness, or that if we get rid of the bad things, the good things will start happening. Happiness and the right to pursue it are sometimes wildly unrealistic as ideals; and, because wildly unrealistic, unconsciously self-destructive.
Because happiness is not always the kind of thing that can be pursued, we should view it, more often than not, as a lucky side effect but not a calculable or calculated end. Making it such an end all too easily brings out the worst in us. If this is a version, to rewrite John Lennon’s famous line, of “happiness is what happens to you when you are doing something else”, it also suggests that scarcity is integral to a sense of reality; that we should be thinking of what Philip Larkin in “Born Yesterday” called “a skilled, / Vigilant, flexible, / Unemphasised, enthralled / Catching of happiness” rather than the engineering of it.”