PURSUING HAPPINESS DURING COVID-19

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Happiness belongs to people who make others happy, writes Osamwonyi Omozuwa

Some of the ethical challenges of engaging in happiness-stimulating social activities in an ever-changing world became more apparent, when Naira Marley held an outdoor concert at Jabi Lake Mall, Abuja. The musical concert, which was held on Saturday 14th June, elicited widespread public censure. Simply because, it was a celebration of deviance, a gross violation of all FCTA enacted protocols on COVID–19 control.

COVID-19 has narrowed our social cosmos. It has disrupted the rhythms of social life. Social life is becoming vapid. People cannot freely spend time doing enjoyable things with others, except on mediated spaces. However, the transformation of mediated spaces to hubs of social, communicational, recreational, educational, and religious activities is causing widespread screen fatigue.

Also, emerging norms of social engagements are making many to feel encaged and emasculated. People’s sense of autonomy is sagging and psychological anguish is increasing. Fear and despair are thriving where love and happiness once reigned. In fact, humanity is going through a time of communal bereavement. People want to take breathers. They resort to music. Music is an age-long recipe for euphoria, particularly, in times of dysphoria.

If Naira Marley’s concert observed extant regulations, it might have transcended the limits of ludic pleasure. It might have engendered renewal of hope, and contributed to dissipating COVID-19’s miasma of despair. Globally, creative workers are ethically deploying their genius, and harnessing innovative technologies to promote wellness and wellbeing. Naira Marley would have followed some of their examples. But he did not. Therefore, making COVID-19 more threatening.

Epicureanism unravels the underlining logic of Naira Marley’s concert. Devotion to sensual pleasure and luxury has attained the status of popular religion. Most young people are animated by the belief that their essential moral duty is to optimise pleasure, luxuriate in affluence, and escape pain.

Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher, in a letter to Menoeceus, notes: “We recognise pleasure as the first good innate in us, and from pleasure we begin every act of choice and avoidance, and to pleasure we return again, using the feeling as the standard by which we judge every good.” Stated pointedly, feelings of pleasure are the moral standard by which Naira Marley, his fans, and many people “judge every good”.

The belief and behaviour of ethical hedonists say man’s ultimate goal is to minimise pain, and maximise pleasure. So, they seek gain without pain, pleasure without principles, and wealth without work. They readily compromise enduring values for fleeting pleasure. Sacrifice means nothing to them; instant gratification means everything. In pursuit of pleasure and affluence, unprincipled advantage takers cast off noble restraints. Their actions are guided by the playbook of situational ethics.

Naira Marley’s musical concert demonstrates the weakness of hedonistic situational ethics. A culture of lawlessness is entrenched when rational and noble restraints are considered useless, spoilers of pleasure. When the principle of “me first” is at work, everything that secures public good ceases to work efficiently. This explains why at the planning and execution stages, the gig did not appear in the raider of law enforcement and regulatory authorities.

The pursuit of happiness is endangered by self-centredness. It mutates the nature of happiness, reduces the possibility of finding meaning, and attaining significance. Happiness in its truest form is epiphenomenal; it is derived from self-giving acts that enrich others. Sadly, in this age of hyper individualism, chivalrous behaviours are seen as the moral vestiges of cavemen. Scorners of code of honour are the new honourables.

Love -the fount of enduring happiness- is an endangered virtue. Happiness is elusive where the poverty of love is widespread. The spike in “opt out”, a euphemism for suicide, is an index that lovelessness and unhappiness are markers of postmodern man. In popular imagination, love equates to ludic lust, mere eroticism. Some people realise a bit late that hedonic romance without the ethics of commitment leads to ethical, emotional, relational, and spiritual burnouts.

Furthermore, many people live under the misapprehension that happiness is a function of their purchasing power. They assume that the broader their spectrum of choice is, the happier they become. Of course, higher income improves people’s spectrum of choice, social visibility, and adorability. However, money, luxury, visibility do not necessarily give happiness. People at the top of the social ladder are hardly the happiest.

Lack of meaningful moral education makes people to think, good body image brings happiness. The British philosopher and strident humanist, A.C Graylings, notes that some people think: “Happiness belongs to those who are thin and buy things.” So, like Erika Kohut, the lead character in Elfriede Jelinek’s novel, The Piano Teacher, they send fortunes buying things they don’t need. Body image and purchasing power cannot substitute good character in the quest for happiness.

Erika Kohut exemplifies the fact that music without nobility of character and thought does not lead to happiness. She used music to inculcate fear, build emotional wall between her and her students. Thereby, she violated the essence of music. Music divorced from ethics becomes an instrument of manipulative control.

Music is pro-social, and central in different ethical guideposts to happiness. Its social and personal functions are significant to human flourishing. Music brings people together. It forges and strengthens social ties. It is a creative way of communicating values, reinforcing cultural identities and stimulating feelings of happiness. In our corruption-encumbered society, music could be used to fine-tune social conscience, and unleash the imaginative prowess of national builders. Also, emotional expression is one of its basic functions. Hence, it fosters inner rejuvenation.

In conclusion, happiness belongs to people who make others happy. Nobody is incapable of offering solace during this austere period of COVID-19. Happiness is not elusive, if we prioritise the wellbeing of others. Nigeria will become an oasis of happiness where human life is richer with meaning, if the golden rule regulates our individual conduct.

Osamwonyi Gabriel Omozuwa, aceomozuwa@gmail.com