Greek philosopher,
Aristotle, considered one of the fathers of the philosophy of happiness
described happiness as the highest goal of life. Around 2400 years ago he
decided to describe it with the term, “eudaimonia”, which literally
means “good demon” which can easily be translated into “human
flourishing.” Aristotle was among the pioneers to identify happiness with
virtue and strong character.

Building upon Aristotle’s
work, philosophers and scientists are coming together to reflect on how true
happiness, while inculcating physical pleasure, may be about living a life of
integrity, as explained by Canadian philosopher Mark Kingwell in his book
Better Living: In Pursuit of Happiness from Plato to Prozac. The famous
18th-century philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, founder of a school of thought known
as Utilitarianism, said the best way to structure society is try to make
possible “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” meaning that
one person’s happiness can’t continually come at the expense of others. If one
person finds wealth, success and a sense of well-being by cheating, or
polluting, that kind of satisfaction would harm the Earth and the rest of us in
the bigger picture. In popular consumer culture in which the mass media
stimulate people towards “immature desire,” Vancouver School of
Theology Prof. Sharon Betcher, believes happiness rests in finding joy in
restraint. Changing our understanding of happiness could set the stage for a
truly ecological age. Arguing that the endless pursuit of “more” has
created both dangerous levels of pollution and of human unhappiness, McKibben
(As noted American author Bill McKibben wrote in the February issue of Ecology
Magazine) says –

“We know, after
the long experience of the 20th century, all the things that don’t work for
human satisfaction (centrally planned economies, endlessly repeated ideologies,
ever more accumulation). We know, from what the scientists now tell us weekly,
what doesn’t work for the planet.”

With authors dictating
to find oneself in the self-help section, with religious gurus issuing
instructions that happiness lies in morality, with cinema and social media
doing propaganda for a ‘king-sized life’, it is natural to find oneself at
crossroads about which path actually leads to happiness. The idea of happiness
has undergone changes in the current scenario, emerging as a measurable,
autonomous, manageable, psychological variable in the global middle-class culture.
The self-conscious, determined search for happiness has gradually transformed
the idea of happiness from a mental state to an objectified quality of life
that can be attained the way an athlete after training under specialists and
going through a strict regimen of exercises and diet wins a medal in a track

The objective of the
present paper is to define happiness in terms of what it is not, by negating
the notions constructed by the culture industry to manipulate the masses into
passive society through cultural articulations such as media and cinema. As
claimed by the members of the Frankfurt School, Theodor Adorno and Max
Horkheimer in “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass
Deception”, culture industry utilizes the commodification of media to
perpetuate simple and easy to digest ideologies. Media has become increasingly
similar where the basic old formula is being recycled and recast over and over
again. The pacification of masses and simplification of media is predominantly
perpetuating the industry, which Adorno and Horkheimer claim, haunts America.
Commodities steal human focus and prevent them from reflecting on their own.
Cultural products then begin to dominate the society and false ideologies
spread like wildfire, which also results in the homogenization of the
individuals since the messages disseminated by such cultural articulations are
“stamped with sameness.” And if there is a homogenization of the
culture and the masses, happiness to is homogenized, despite being a subjective
concept. After all, an individual creates his own definition of happiness from
cultural productions such as family, relatives, books, movies, education
system, etc. The goals and purposes to attain the ultimate aim of happiness is
set up for the masses by the culture industry itself and these purported tasks
are often specious, delusory and misleading as they convince an individual of a
false utopia to strive for, as the passive minded human joins the rat race to
reach the non-existent destination.

By drawing examples
from cinema, especially from the genre of romantic comedy of Hollywood and
touching briefly upon popular themes in Bollywood, the paper intends to explore
the construction of the myth of happiness as happiness becomes a copy with no
original. Thus, rendering the condition of human beings to that of Albert
Camus’s Sisyphus and leading one to wonder if imagining Sisyphus to be happy is
enough to achieve happiness?

In the liberal economy
of America, along with the postwar prosperity, the shop-till-you-drop binge
took off with warp speed and has been cruising buoyantly ever since.
Hollywood’s part in supplying the fuel is familiar and acts like Marxian
superstructure to justify the economic base. From Florence Lawrence (“the
Biograph Girl”) to Angelina Jolie, the movies have rolled out a red carpet
for sleek felines to prance and purr in haute couture. In rom-com land, women
squeal, coo, and sob; men belch, grunt, and toss high-fives. Women are bundles
of insecurity and anxiety about weight, work, and the tick-tock of their
biological clocks whereas men are portrayed as clods, brutes, and horndogs. As
the propaganda arm of the American Dream machine, Hollywood promotes a romantic
fantasy of marital roles and conjugal euphoria and chronically ignores the
facts and fears arising from an awareness of the end, the winding down of love,
change, divorce, depression, mutation, death itself. No matter how uppity the
woman or rakish the male, the romantic comedy affirms a picture of the Utopian
community in which sexual and ideological conflicts are magically resolved, a
fairy tale world where courtship and marriage formulations suggest that the
Utopian ideal is possible only within the existing social framework. It is the
leer of advertising, the power of a purchase to transform the mundane
existence, and the promise of social salvation through consumer choice that has
animated the popular culture.