Archive for November, 2016


In the second chapter of his work, Civilization and its Discontents, Sigmund Freud attempts to innumerate the ways and means by which humanity identifies, pursues, and interacts with pleasure. This interaction becomes very apparent as, in building on the work he began in Future of an Illusion in 1927, he posits that religion is an “infantile” coping mechanism that disguises “the purpose of life” which is “simply the programme of the pleasure principle” (Freud 43). To this end Freud delineates three sources of man’s suffering: the human body itself, external nature, and human society. These sources are the framework around which Freud will build an argument that describes the ways in which mankind alleviates his suffering in order to subsequently associate his ability to “escape unhappiness” (44) with pleasure. By these means an individual person becomes responsible for his or her own construction of happiness and what the pursuit thereof entails. Whether a person chooses to define pleasure as the absence of the unpleasurable, isolation, intoxication, or even a momentary respite from the pressures of an external world from which we have artificially divorced ourselves, Freud posits that all of these are elements of an internally derived concept of happiness.
In introducing the ways in which humanity achieves the momentary instances of happiness that it seeks, Freud is quick to point out that of the three main sources of human suffering only those caused by societal interaction are readily available for alteration. However, in any instance, Freud suggests that the most ready alternative to the suffering of a person is “voluntary isolation” (45). While this provides no solace from the withering deterioration of age, “against the dreaded external world” and “the suffering which may come upon one from human relationships” this isolation can provide what Freud calls “the happiness of quietness” (45). This, like religion, is an attempt to avoid the “sensation” of suffering.
Beyond isolation Freud proceeds to offer intoxication as another viable resource in combating human suffering. Owing to the fact that suffering “only exists in so far as we feel it” (45), intoxication can “alter the conditions governing our sensibility” so much so that a person can become “incapable of receiving unpleasurable impulses (46). As this form of pleasure contains its own brand of consequences, particularly the “danger” and “injuriousness” of intoxicants and what Freud refers to as “the useless waste of a large quota of energy” (47), he proceeds to include mental isolation as a natural form of inoculating oneself from external stressors in systems such as Yoga.
Owing to the inherent dangers of intoxication and the mental acuity necessary for “the worldly wisdom of the East” (47) Freud describes a means of staving off suffering in what he refers to as “the displacements of libido” (48). This act involves the investing of pleasurable sensation within the production of some “psychical and intellectual work” (48). While more exclusive in that this outlet is limited to the specially inclined, it extends by proxy to those who have the capacity to derive pleasure from the consumption of art. In this way those who cannot actively participate in the “displacements” Freud describes can, “by the agency of the artist” access that happiness which art is capable of engendering. Each of these interactions with art stands as precursor to Freud’s statement that “happiness in life is predominantly sought in the enjoyment of beauty” (53).
Ultimately, through his careful description of the ways in which mankind seeks pleasure, Freud emphasizes the importance of choice in one’s construct of happiness. It is here that he houses one of his chief complaints against religion when he charges those institutions with imposing “equally on everyone its own path to the acquisition of happiness and protection from suffering” (56). By freeing oneself from the “psychical infantilism” which offers little benefit save “sparing many people an individual neurosis” (56), a person can be free to define both what constitutes happiness and the best means for achieving it.

Works Cited
Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. Translated by James Strachy W.W. Norton and Company LTD. 2010, pp. 39-56.