Not-for-profit organisation The Ethics Centre is hosting an event that asks: what are the ethics of happiness?

Happiness, generally, is usually understood as a human desire or need, something we all should want and strive towards daily. Self-help books, wellbeing social-media accounts and Hollywood rom-coms all promote – and sell – happiness as an ultimate goal. This Ethics Centre talk will feature three speakers: social psychologist Brock Bastian; Walkley-awarded journalist and academic, Camilla Nelson; and psychotherapist Marc Alfred, tackling the daunting topic of whether happiness has become a monolithic measurement of success.

The right to pursue happiness is even protected in the United States by the Declaration of Independence, but did Thomas Jefferson really imagine the pressures of job promotions, constant personal improvement, clean eating, and mindfulness when he signed off? Bastian says that the current pressures in society to be happy are unprecedented.

“There is a cult of positive thinking in Western society, and even most of the world. We believe that thinking and feeling positively is both a pathway towards success, and a measurement of that success. So when we don’t succeed, it compounds into this spiral of unhappiness – we feel bad, and then feel bad that we feel bad.”

Bastian believes sadness, anger and disappointment are natural and perfectly reasonable emotions to feel, and he wants to promote this idea. This is essentially the crux of Pixar’s film from last year, Inside Out, which follows the emotional sensors of a young girl, Riley. We can’t be happy all the time, and that’s okay – even the embodiment of joy, played by Amy Poehler, realises Riley can’t always be happy, nor should she be. So why do we struggle so much?


“There’s this belief that only positive experiences propel an individual forward, when the reality is that negative moments shape and build us to be stronger people in ways which ultimately help us reach some form of contentment or happiness, in the long run.”

But it’s not as simple as just stopping the pursuit of happiness. We still mostly all want to be happy. Bastian believes that instead, happiness shouldn’t be all we want or see as valuable.

“The ironic thing about happiness is that by chasing it, you’re less likely to find it. Happiness can’t be the only goal. We need to pursue other ideals, like developing relationships, engaging with our surroundings and finding purposeful things to do with our time.”

The Ethics of Happiness will be debated Wednesday February 17, at The Ethics Centre in Legion House, 161 Castlereagh Street, from 6.30pm to 8pm. Doors open 6pm.

www.ethics.org.au/events/the-ethics-of-happiness