Variations of a Theme: The Cost of Happiness

He turned from the sight of human ignorance and human fate and the sea eating the ground we stand on, which, had he been able to contemplate it fixedly might have led to something; and found consolation in trifles so slight compared with the august theme just now before him that he was disposed to slur that comfort over, to deprecate it, as if to be caught happy in a world of misery was for an honest man the most despicable of crimes.

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse


In love, happiness is an abnormal state, capable of instantly conferring on the pettiest-seeming incident, which can occur at any moment, a degree of gravity that in other circumstances it would never have. What makes one so happy is the presence of something unstable in the heart, something one contrives constantly to keep in a state of stability, and which one is hardly even aware of as long as it remains like that. In fact, though, love secretes a permanent pain, which joy neutralizes in us, makes virtual, and holds in abeyance; but at any moment, it can turn into torture, which is what would have happened long since if one had not obtained what one desired.

– Marcel Proust, In the Garden of Young Girls in Flower


All man’s pleasure in acting, moving and exerting himself implies the sense that his efforts are not in vain and that by walking he has advanced. However, one does not advance when one walks toward no goal, or – which is the same thing – when his goal is infinity. Since the distance between us and it is always the same, whatever road we might take, we might as well have made the motions without progress from the spot. Even our glances behind and our feeling of pride at the distance covered can cause only deceptive satisfaction, since the remaining distance is not proportionally reduced. To pursue a goal which is by definition unattainable is to condemn oneself to a state of perpetual unhappiness.

– Emile Durkheim, On Suicide

Alejandro Diaz, “Happiness is Expensive” (2008), neon, 17” x 34”