Happiness in a suffering world

The suffering and the injustice of the world refer us to our own situation and to our way of living. This can make us question our responsibility, and can lead to a feeling of guilt: do we have the right to happiness when there is so much suffering in the world? There are several possible answers to this question, including the following:

– According to Montaigne (1533-1592), “There is enough suffering as it is without adding one’s own to that of others.”

If a person feels happy, or says he has found happiness, this can help him to open up to others; it is like a base from which he can find strength, an energy to accompany people who are not experiencing this at the moment.

– Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), a physician, theologian and philosopher, was in daily contact with suffering and death in a hospital in Africa. Marked by this experience, he could not put aside the suffering of other living beings. For him, the notion of happiness is strongly linked to the notion of responsibility, and to action: “The little you can do is already a lot, if you succeed in freeing a being – man or any creature – from his suffering, his evil or his fear. Saving life is the only happiness that counts.”

– Ghislain Waterlot, professor of philosophy and ethics at the Faculty of Theology of the University of Geneva, suggests this path: “It is not so much a matter of forgetting oneself as of knowing how to articulate one’s own happiness with one’s responsibility in this world, in the face of injustice and the misfortune of others. Protestantism would therefore not say: be unhappy! But rather: you don’t have the right to be happy at all costs”. 

So yes, it would be possible to be happy, while being aware of the suffering of the world, and of the responsibilities that are ours.

“My God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Reinhold Niebuhr