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In this paper I propose a theory which I hope will provide the answer to a number of puzzling questions about happiness and some of its logical neighbours; notions like unhappiness, boredom, worry, pleasure and pain. For instance, why is happiness so often such an ephemeral state of mind? Why can we not make it last? Why do we feel unhappy when we are bored or worried? What is responsible for those sustained periods of happiness which we occasionally experience? etc. I think that a satisfactory answer to these and other related questions is possible through an understanding of the factors which structure the relationship between the subject of consciousness (the self) and that of which the self is conscious (the object of attention). A general theory of this relationship has been proposed by C.O. Evans in his book, The Subject of Consciousness 1 and in Section 2 of this paper I will outline his theory and propose certain extensions to it which will allow it to deal with questions relating to happiness. In Section 3, I will explain the phnenomenon of short-lived happiness - the kind we usually experience - and in Section 4 the more unusual state of sustained happiness. Finally, in Section 5 I will explain the role of pleasure and pain vis-à-vis happiness and unhappiness.

The Structure of Consciousness

I intend to suggest that when I am happy, my consciousness is structured in a quite definite way, and that it is this structure which accounts for my being happy. However, in order to understand what it means to talk about one's consciousness being 'structured' in a certain way, we require a theoretical framework in which such talk makes sense. This framework has been provided by C.O. Evans, and as a full appreciation of my analysis of happiness depends on an understanding of Evans' theory, a resume of its central theme is a necessary starting point.

Briefly, Evans' theory is this: the most outstanding feature of consciousness is its reflexive nature. You cannot be conscious without being aware that you are conscious. Given this feature of consciousness, what is this 'you', this 'self' which is the subject of consciousness? Evans' answer is this: the field of consciousness (i.e. consciousness as a whole) is always structured by attention into a foreground (occupied by whatever is currently at the focus of our attention) and a background (that experiencing which is occurring and thus contributing to our conscious field as a whole, but which is not occupying the focus of attention). Evans identifies the subject of consciousness with this background experiencing, or, as he calls it, the unprojected consciousness. (2)

Evans' arguments in support of the identification of the self with background or unprojected consciousness form the substance of his book and it is inevitably a disservice to those arguments to reporduce them briefly. I shall compromise by giving only one of his arguments, but that in some detail. This argument turns on the premise that if two apparently different things the subject of consciousness (the self) and the unprojected consciousness share the same quality, and if this is the only quality that they have, then there are no grounds for maintaining them as separate entities.

Now typically, any attempt to characterise the self as something which is experienced ends in Humean confusion. As Hume said, "When I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble upon some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure, I never can catch myself at any time without a perception and never can observe anything but the perception."(3)

The reflexive nature of consciousness ensures that all self-examination will be carried out by a self which will therefore escape characterisation. Similarly the unprojected consciousness (which Evans identifies with this elusive self) cannot be examined to determine its character either. To turn one's attention to some purported aspect of the unprojected consciousness, such as traffic noise which we are experiencing (hearing), but not listening to (paying attention to), is to make it the object of attention, thereby eliminating it as the sort of experiencing which could be a part of the unprojected consciousness. It seems then that each given object of attention is accompanied by a background or unprojected consciousness which includes all that experiencing which, though occurring, is not occupying the focus of attention at that moment. Foregrounds it seems, require backgrounds, and backgrounds, by their very nature, cannot be examined without losing their essential background quality. Similarly, to be conscious of, i.e. be paying attention to something, is also to be conscious (aware) that you are conscious of it, but this does not mean that this 'being conscious that you are conscious (of some object)' (i.e. this awareness of self) is itself an object of attention. If it in turn becomes the object of attention then a consciousness of being conscious reasserts itself as a necessary concomitant of being conscious of being conscious.

Being conscious of some object necessarily involves a reflexive consciousness or awareness of self, which shares the essential background quality which is exhibited by those peripheral experiencings (the unprojected consciousness) against which the object of attention stands out. Neither the self (the subject of consciousness) nor the unprojected consciousness can be turned into an object of attention without losing its essential background quality. This 'background quality' is the only characteristic which the self and the unprojected consciousness share in terms of our awareness of them and it is this fact which leads Evans to say that the self, or subject of consciousness is identical with the unprojected consciousness.

In connection with this identification, one key point needs to be emphasised and I shall quote Evans direction on this subject:

"The description 'unprojected consciousness' refers to a logical aspect of the structure of consciousness, and it is on that account not to be confused with the particular content of unprojected consciousness at any one time. There is nothing on my view which rules out the possibility of any particular type of content forming the self at a particular moment - except that elements that are by definition 'attention laden' elements must be excluded." (p.166)


"This means that it is possible for unprojected consciousness to contain as components certain experiential elements which come from our outer sense. That is, it will usually contain elements of perceptual awareness; namely, those elements of perceptual awareness that are not at the time commanding attention. This implication of the theory may seem paradoxical since it would be understood as tantamount to the proposition that the self is partly made up of background 'noise' and peripheral visual awareness and so forth. If that were the case one could well object that one's self was not made up of indistinct noises and indistinguishable visual objects, and so on for the remaining sense modalities. But that would be to misunderstand the position. The perceptual awareness in question is our experience of noise, and so forth, it is not the noise itself. This is true too of the other senses. And yet we must be careful not to describe such elements of noise, because as soon as they are individuated they case to belong to unprojected consciousness, and even to speak of them as 'noise' presupposes recognition of them; i.e. they have then come to attention. It is only in retrospect, therefore, that we can come to classify such an experiental element as awareness of noise. It must be stressed, then, that it is the experiencing with which the self is being identified, and not the objects experienced." (p.167-8)

Now it is through this theory of the relationship between the self and its conscious states that I wish to develop my explanation of happiness. First, however, I wish to introduce some further notions which conjoined with Evans' theory, will allow us to explain the notion of happiness.

When we are not engaged in any particular activity, consciousness remains structured by attention, but this attention is, in Evan's phrase 'unordered'. In other words, the objects which occupy the focus of attention do so in a random fashion as when we are day-dreaming. Everything which enters our consciousness has an equal right to occupy the focus of attention, but only one thing can do so at a time. If I make no effort to control my attention, the result is that the focus of attention is successively occupied by various objects which need bear no intrinsic relationship to one another. If I wish to maintain some object at the focus of attention I can do so by concentrating on it, that is, by exerting my will. This has the effect of excluding any other elements of consciousness which I may be experiencing from occupying the focus of attention. But since any particular thing which enters my consciousness has an equal right to occupy the focus of attention, this maintenance of the selected object at the focus of attention requires an unremitting effort of will. And indeed, we cannot maintain a selected object at the focus of attention for very long unless the object concerned begins to interest us or, as we say, absorb our attention. Now an object may absorb our attention by exhibiting (either by itself, or with our help) a 'story-line', i.e. the object of attention will give way to a new but related object as one element in a story gives way to another as the plot unfolds. This metamorphosis of one object of attention into the next by means of some intrinsic connection between the two means that the focus of attention is continuously occupied by what is, in effect, one object of attention - the unfolding story-line. Thus no opportunity arises for any competing elements of consciousness to occupy the focus of attention. It is never empty for a moment so long as the evolution of the story-line continues. This notion of a story-line explains how our attention can be continuously occupied by one metamorphosing object of attention and consequently explains what conditions must be met if we are to be in an absorbed state of consciousness.

Now to state my hypothesis about how happiness is produced. In order to create the conditions under which a story-line may begin to evolve, we must concentrate our attention on one object. If this effort is rewarded by the creation of an absorbed state of consciousness- one characterised by an object of attention which, through its story-line, continuously occupies the focus of attention - then this state of consciousness will give rise to feelings of happiness. If, however, we cannot get interested in the object which is, through an exercise of will, being forcibly maintained at the focus of attention, the conscious structure thus produced will give rise to feelings of unhappiness. And this because, basically, the will is being exercised without success, i.e. without an absorbed state of consciousness resulting.

It should be noticed that a key element in the conscious structure which gives rise to feelings of happiness, is its effortless maintenance. Because the evolving story-line keeps the focus of attention ocucpied, we need exert no effort of will to maintain ourselves in the resulting absorbed state of consciousness. However, we are in such a state 'at will', which is to say, the state of consciousness we are in it under our control from the point of view of turning or not turning our attention to something else. As we might expect, the corresponding element in the case of unhappiness is that situation in which the object occupying our attention is not under our control. For example, when we are worried some object occupies our attention against our will, and when we are bored we cannot, through our will, maintain any object at the focus of attention.

Thus far the factors involved in creating those states of consciousness which are associated with happiness are fairly simple. However, I now want to introduce a further element which leads to considerable complications in my subsequent analysis. This further element concerns the source of the story-line which occupies our attention. There are two alternative sources: the object of attention may create the story-line which involves us either on its own, or through us. An example of the first alternative is the experience of reading a book. By concentrating our attention we maintain the preferred story-line at the focus of attention, to the exclusion of any other contending experiences. Once we succeed in picking up the story-line, its intrinsic evolution will maintain it at the focus of attention without any further effort on our part. Should we be interrupted, the story-line must be picked up again through an effort of concentration, and in a moment we will see the relevance of such interruptions in relation to the feelings of happiness associated with such states of passive absorption.

An example of the other alternative is a conversation. If we are to participate in a conversation, as opposed to listening to a lecture, we must contribute to it in order to maintain the story-line in virtue of which the conversation absorbs our attention. This includes being aware of what the other person is saying, and its bearing on what you will say next. The shifts of attention which this process involves do not destroy one's involvement in the conversation - as a shift of attention away from the story-line of a book would - but they do, on the face of it raise problems concerning the intelligibility of being absorbed while one's attention is apparently divided between two separate (though admittedly related) objects of attention. The bearing of this on the experience of sustained happiness will be explained in section II.

By way of a summary then, we have the following theoretical framework: we have Evans' notion of consciousness polarised or structured by attention into a foreground (the object of attention), and a background of unattended-to experiencings which have been identified with the self. (4)

II. Happiness I

Though it scarcely requires my imprimatur, Pope in his Essay on Man 'states the case' for happiness. "Oh happiness, our being's end and aim! Good, Pleasure, Ease, Content, whate'er they name." (IV, I) There can be little doubt I think that Pope is right. However, happiness has proved a difficult quarry, seeming always to fade from our consciousness even as we experience it. I refer here to the kind of happiness which seems to be experienced only as a brief aftermath of the conscious state (being involved or absorbed) responsible for it. I now want to try to explain why this 'fading' type of happiness has this characteristic.

I understand happiness to be a sensation which arises when we are in a certain conscious state, namely when we are absorbed or involved in some experience. However, in the case of passive involvement, this sensation cannot be experienced at the same time as the experience which is absorbing our attention, i.e. the experience responsible for our being involved. To actually experience the feeling of happiness we must notice it, or shift our attention to it, thereby destroying the state of absorption which gives rise to the sensation. This sensation of happiness, experienced on withdrawal from the absorbed state, is idiomatically expressed in variations on such phrases as "My, I am enjoying this book," (film, piece of music etc.) However, one cannot go saying, 'My, I am enjoying this' for very long. Unless you get back into a state of absorption the feeling of happiness will disappear, and of course getting back into the absorbed state requires a shift of attention away from any peripheral feelings which such a state may give rise to. And in any case, these feelings of happiness quickly fade without the presence of the absorbed state of consciousness which produced them.

These states of absorption are achieved through concentration but once a certain amount of momentum has been gained through this exercise of the will, they can be maintained effortlessly by the independent development of the story-line. At this stage of the focus of attention has been monopolised by the object of attention, leaving no room for intrusion by those peripheral experiencing which constitute the self and, in particular, no room for intrusion by those feelings of happiness which such a state of absorption produces.

Thus, though being absorbed is a pleasant state to be in, this is only realised retrospectively. We cannot note the pleasantness of the situate unless we shift our attention to it, and this, as we have seen, has the effect of cancelling out that state of consciousness which is responsible for the production of the sensation in the first place. Thus happiness - of this type at least - is necessarily ephemeral. Paradoxically we can only prolong it by not noticing it or paying attention to it.
This type of happiness is associated with cases of what I earlier called passive involvement. These are cases in which little or no active contribution is required on the part of the subject, so far as the content of the experience is concerned - cases indeed, in which the initial effort of paying attention is calculated to eliminate those peripheral experiencings which make up the self. (Idiomatically, we say that we become 'lost' in the book, the music, etc. And on Evans' identification thesis, we can see the literal aptness of this metaphor.) Escapist entertainment is designed to capture one's attention readily, thus providing an easy means of losing oneself in some experience. It also, of course, provides only a very ephemeral sort of happiness. The latter is only experienced on withdrawal from the absorbed state, and is necessarily short-lived when divorced from its source - as it must be in order to be experienced.

This rather deflating account of this sort of happiness is reflected, in our most common descriptions of happiness as being "all too brief", "impossible to hold on to", etc. Fortunately there is another species of happiness associated with active involvement which presents a somewhat brighter prospect. However, before going on to this it is worth pausing to consider the opposite case of unhappiness to see how it fits into the theoretical framework.

Clearly, if the ability to become absorbed in something is a precondition of happiness, the inability to become involved is a precondition for being unhappy, and typically a bored man is an unhappy one. The idiomatic description of such a man as not knowing what to do with himself is tailor-made for explication in terms of our theoretical framework. If we identify the self with those experiencings which are not at the focus of attention, and we characterise the bored man as unable to become interested in anything, the new have a picture of a person who, in his efforts to become involved, constantly turns his attention to various things which he is experiencing (i.e. in effect, to himself - since he has been identified with all those experiencings which are not at the focus of attention but which he can turn his attention to) only to reject them in turn as they fail to sustain his interest. He ransacks his consciousness and in the process becomes very aware of himself, and Romantic fin-de-siecle ennui aside, this is not a happy state of mind. Our continuing efforts to escape from such a state are adequate evidence for this conclusion.

III. Happiness II

Now to turn to the most interesting case of happiness, that of sustained or prolonged happiness. This, I shall argue, is associated with active involvement. From what we have already said about ephemeral happiness it follows that to achieve a continuously happy state we must create a conscious state in which we are aware of the pleasures attendant on being absorbed without ceasing to be absorbed.

Such a state of mind occurs when we are responsible for (in the sense of having an active part in creating) that activity or experience which is engaging our attention. In the case of passive involvement we must exert our will-power in order to enter into an absorbed state, but once in it, we can continue in such a state with little difficulty. This is because the story-line (i.e. that which accounts for our interest in the experience) whether in a book, film, or lecture, carries us along with no need to contribute to it. However, if we are responsible for the story-line, we will not be able to become absorbed in it - and hence it will not be an enjoyable experience - if it is necessary constantly to exert our attention in order to maintain the momentum of the experience. If we are to enjoy to experience, we must possess whatever skill is required to create the story-line effortlessly - our skill must impart enough momentum to the experience to allow us to maintain it at will. Only then can we begin to enjoy what we are doing as we do it, for only then will our attention be sufficiently disengaged from the actual direction of the activity to be free to notice the enjoyment we derive from being thus engaged. The better we are at any activity the more we enjoy doing it as we actually do it, simply because the need to pay close attention to what we are doing is absent and we are therefore not prevented which accompany being involved in the experience. As a result we can enjoy these sensations, give them our attention, without giving up that activity which is responsible for them. Normally paying close attention to something has the effect of depriving that area of consciousness which is occupied by background experiencings of any access to the focus of attention. In this case, however, our possession of a skill serves to maintain the experience which we are involved in creating at the focus of attention without our having to maintain that experience through a direct effort of will. Our skill is in effect an independent sub-routine of attentive behaviour which we can set in action, thereby freeing ourselves from the task of keeping the experience at the focus of attention and allowing us to notice the feelings of happiness which result from this active involvement which is based on the engagement of the skill.

Unlike the case of passive absorption, we are not lost in the experience. We can, by allowing our skill to do the job of maintaining the experience for us, remain free to enjoy being thus involved while we are involved, instead of only realising our enjoyment of the experience retrospectively.

In such cases we literally enjoy ourselves - because we are engaged in and by an activity we ourselves are creating.

At the beginning of this section I said that to achieve a continuously happy state we must create a conscious state in which we are aware of the feelings of happiness attendant on being absorbed without ceasing to be absorbed. Since it is one of the basic premises of this paper that we cannot pay attention to two things at once, we need to somehow divide our attention if the condition laid down for the achievement of continuous happiness is to be met. And this is, in effect, what engaging in skilful behaviour amounts to. We allow our skill - a piece of attentive behaviour which has been reduced to a routine - to take over the direct responsibility for the maintenance of the activity, and thus maintain it at the focus of attention. The overriding responsibility for the activity is still with us. We can start or stop it at will, but we are freed from the conscious direction of the activity by our skill which functions independently of us in the sense that it directs the detailed activity which creates and maintains the experience which is at the focus of attention. Being thus freed, we can enjoy the activity without switching off the attention behaviour embodied in the skill which is responsible for creating and maintaining the involved state of consciousness which is the root cause of our enjoyment.

Experience which activity engage the subject display a sliding scale of enjoyment which varies with the amount of overriding attention which is necessary to successfully maintain the experience. For example, simply to walk along the side-walk requires a certain minimal skill, but it does not exercise that skill to any great extent, and as a result it is a relatively neutral experience. We are simply not interested by the exercise of this skill at this level. However, if we speed up and complice the situation, our attention becomes engaged by it - our skill in walking, nearly side-stepping, speeding up slightly to avoid collisions, changing pace, etc., comes into its own. We effortlessly thread our way through the maze of pedestrians, and provided that we are not rushing to meet a train or are for some such reason regarding the maze of pedestrians as an obstacle, we enjoy this exercise of our own skill in the very act of exercising it. Why? Because we can turn our attention to the feelings of happiness which arise from being interested without sacrificing the continuity of the experience (the involved state of consciousness) that is being maintained by our skill.

Generally speaking, situations in which we must keep our wits about us, are enjoyable ones, namely because they interest us but still leave us free enough to note our feelings of enjoyment as they occur. The position changes, however, when the situation becomes so complex that it goes beyond the limits of our skill and so cannot be coped with effortlessly. In such situations, we can no longer 'stand back' from the action - instead, we must become totally absorbed in directing it. We can no longer count on our acquired skill to carry us along. At such a point we cease to enjoy ourselves at the same time as we act, because the area of consciousness which accounts for our self-awareness has been cut off as an area to which we might pay attention by the need to pay all of our attention to what we are doing. Think, for example, of the skier who suddenly finds that he is on too steep a slope and is going far too quickly. He may be able to cope but it will require all his attention to do so, leaving no room for any simultaneous realisation that this is an exciting or exhilarating experience.

Let us take this sequence of events a stage further. Consider the distinctly unhappy sensation which arises when a situation becomes too complex for us to handle. There is no question of our not being absorbed by the situation, it has us thoroughly in its grip, but we are not enjoying it. Clearly the source of our discomfort is that the situation has outstripped our ability - our skill - to handle it. We are no longer creating or directing our experience but are instead being carried along by it.

In the case of passive involvement, being absorbed by the experience at the focus of attention produced a feeling of happiness which was retrospectively recognised. But a key ingredient in this passive involvement was the fact that we were in this state of our own free will. However, in a case of active involvement where external factors have outstripped our ability to control the experience which is absorbing our attention, we have a situation in which it is necessary for us to play a part, but in which we are suddenly unable to do so. Consider, for example, the speaker who is asked a question to which he is expected to reply, but for which he is not prepared. The action is going to continue but unless we gain some control over it we will be in trouble. In such cases, because it has a role to play, the self is intensely aware of its inability to contribute to or involve itself in the action. There is a structural similarity here with the plight of the bored man. The bored man cannot fix his attention on anything long enough to become absorbed by it. The man whose skills have been outstripped also cannot control his attention - he cannot direct his powers in such a way as to become once again involved in the situation in the sense of actively shaping it according to his will. In such cases he often feels 'detached' from the action - a sub-conscious equivalent of 'giving up' where conscious 'giving up' is out of the question. Like the bored man, he is in a sense unable to get involved, but unlike him, he is not simply under the internal pressures of restlessness and discontent to become involved; he is under external pressures which demand from him a participation in the experiences which he cannot give. We are acutely aware of ourselves in these situations because our attention is focussed reflexively on our inability to exercise our attention and direct our activities in accordance with the demands of the situation. Consider how self-conscious a speaker can become when asked an awkward question, and the parallel fact that this is a conscious state which gives rise to feelings of unhappiness.

One aspect of our experience which at first sight may appear as a counter-example to this general picture is that sort of unhappiness characterised by worry. The worried man is clearly involved or absorbed by that which is worrying him, but he is just as clearly not happy in this state. Let us see why this is the case. When a man is worried he is engaged by a problem which he cannot solve, but which has some important bearing on his life. Consider the husband whose wife has taken the car, promised to be back by 5 o'clock, and fails to return on time. After a while he begins to wonder why his wife has not returned. Because it is important to him he begins to turn over various possibilities in his mind and as these range from flat tires to serious accidents, he becomes upset. He can do noting about the situation and he may recognise that any further speculation will only upset him further, but against his will his attention keeps turning more and more to the possibilities which he has envisaged, and their implications. (If these implications or 'story-lines' capture his interest, he may derive a certain morbid pleasure from his absorption in them, but as they move further from his immediate concern, they become hollow and cease to serve as an escape from the central worry). At this stage he is having difficulty controlling his attention and as a result displays a conscious structure which is again, similar to that of the bored man. He is constantly trying to interest himself in something other than the problem which is worrying him. He is, like the bored man, attempting to ransack his consciousness (himself) for some experience which will distract his attention from his worries. Unfortunately, he cannot seem to fix his attention on anything other than the problem at hand. The advice "do not worry" is on a par with "Don't be bored". The person who is worried or bored is simply not capable of directing his attention in the way in which he desires and the resultant state of consciousness gives rise to feelings of unhappiness.

IV. The Role of Pleasure and Pain in Happiness and Unhappiness

Attempts to break down the traditional relationship between pleasure and happiness (and pain and unhappiness) are hampered by the almost analytic connection which seems to link these two pairs of concepts. The classic questions "Can a man be happy on the rack?" suggests that a man cannot by happy if he is in pain, and by implication that a man is happy only if he is feeling pleasure. This view is especially characteristic of the 19th century and is enshrined in an extreme form in Alexander Bain's statement that "Each man's happiness may be defined as the surplus gained when the total of pain is subtracted from the total of pleasure."(5)

However, if my analysis of happiness is correct, this tight link - virtually an identification - between happiness and pleasure (unhappiness and pain) needs to be re-examined.

Initially it might seem as if pain and pleasure were experiences to which we might or might not pay attention. However, our attention is in fact much less at our command in these two cases than it normally is. Indeed, as the sensation of pain and pleasure increases in intensity they come harder and harder to ignore until finally we cannot prevent them from occupying the focus of our attention. Let us look at the states of consciousness which are thus produced and see what their connection is with those states which are responsible for happiness and unhappiness. By way of an example, we can examine the similarities and differences which exist between the structure of the bored man's consciousness and that of the man with a headache. The bored man is unhappy because in effect he has suffered a failure of will; he is unable to keep his attention focused on any of his experiences long enough to become absorbed in them. By contrast the man with the headache is unhappy because (assuming that he is not bored to begin with) he is being prevented from paying attention to that which interests him, or might interest him, by his headache, which, against his will, draws his attention to the pain he is experiencing. It is his inability to ignore the pain and his unsuccessful attempts to turn his attention to something else which make him feel unhappy, not the pain itself. His feelings of pain and his feeling of unhappiness are not identical: we remember that the bored man experiences his unhappiness in terms of the restlessness caused by his repeated attempts to get interested in something. Similarly, the man with a headache experiences his unhappiness in the same terms and expresses it in idioms like 'I can't seem to do anything today thanks to this headache'. Now, because his headache is occupying his attention against his will, he has, unlike the bored man, a valid excuse for his inability to 'do anything', that is, to get into an involved state of consciousness, and so he cannot be blamed for his resultant unhappiness. The bored man is, however, responsible in some sense for his own unhappiness, since nothing 'external' prevents his become absorbed in some experience.

The pain of the headache causes the man who has it to be unhappy (i.e. is responsible for the creation of a state of consciousness which is inimical to absorption), but it (the pain) does not constitute his feelings of unhappiness. After all, the worried man experiences the same feeling of unhappiness (roughly the feeling which arises when the focus of attention is being occupied by some experience against our will) but there is no suggestion that he is in pain, hence there is no reason to identify pain and unhappiness.

Why have people been tempted to identify these two notions? I think the explanation is as follows: Pain and pleasure are experiences which attract our attention easily. Doubtless they do so because they have an important bearing on the survival of the species. Their intrinsic characters are such that, in the case of pleasure, it requires no effort on our part to maintain the pleasurable sensation at the focus of attention. We thus achieve involvement at no cost in terms of will-power. This means that we can notice the happiness which this involved state of consciousness. We thus become engaged in an attempt to dislodge the sensation of pain from the focus of our attention, but because the pain is 'external' to our will, and for biological reasons has a 'natural right' to our attention, we are in a situation in which a kind of 'natural' unhappiness is generated. The failure of the will which is necessary to produce the conscious structure responsible for unhappiness is 'built into' the pain experience. In the same way the conscious structure responsible for happiness is built into the pleasure experience in that it requires no effort of will to pay attention to (become absorbed by) it. Perhaps then it is this 'natural' connection between pleasure and happiness, pain and unhappiness, which accounts for the tight link between these two pairs of concepts, a link which has led many to an identification of pleasure with happiness (and pain with unhappiness).

In order to round off this analysis it might be useful at this point to correlate various instances of 'failure of the will' into a description of ascending types of unhappiness. Consider the following sequence of events. A child sits down to do his mathematics homework. He beings by attending to the problem at hand and then succeeds in becoming involved in it. So long as things go smoothly he will be happy, he may even remark to himself, on completing a series of problems, that mathematics is fun (and thus realise that he is enjoying himself). Suppose then he comes to a problem which he cannot solve. He tries and tries to see what has gone wrong but to no avail. The will is there but the ability is lacking. The result is unhappiness in the form of frustration. Each fresh attempt to become involved is balked by the difficulty of the task, and, as it becomes clearer and clearer to him that he cannot solve the problem, he may finally despair, and realise that no effort on his part will change the situation. At this point he may attempt to alleviate his unhappy condition by 'giving up' which in effect amounts to recognising his limitations and perhaps turning his attention to something else in an endeavour to get involved, and thus become happy again. On the other hand he may regard himself as being unable to give up, due perhaps, to imagined or real penalties attending failure. In this case he may panic, which is to say, go blindly through the motions of trying to solve the problem with the simultaneous awareness that this is an exercise in futility. The result is often some careless notation ending in an angry, uncontrollable scrawl. This signals the breakdown of the will, and with this breakdown, the end of the panicky feeling. The will ceases its unsuccessful striving, and the child becomes resigned to his fate. The is nothing further to be done, and he feels neither unhappy nor happy but simply calm, the will is at rest.

One final comment, though purely speculative, does not seem out of place. If we should ask why feelings of happiness and unhappiness occur at all, what their role is in our make-up, it seems natural to suggest that they serve as motivations for attentive behaviour. Following Darwin, we may safely say that an organism's survival depends on how well it is adapted to its environment. If by paying attention it can bring that environment under its control to some extent, then its chances for survival are increased. And since survival is the species-goal, it is natural that the attentive behaviour which contributes to that survival should be motivated. Hence the association of happines with attentive behaviour.


1 George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1970

2 We can get an idea of what this unprojected consciousness is by simply considering the physiological contribution to consciousness. At any given time our sense organs are receiving stimulation in varying degrees. We may pay attention to only one of the resulting sensations at any one time, and this has the effect of relegating the sensations felt through the other sense organs into the background of our consciousness. However, as background elements, these experiencings do not cease to exist; they continue to contribute to the conscious field as a whole. They are there, as it were, as eligible contenders, waiting for a shift of interest to bring them to the focus of attention. When this occurs, as objects of attention they become experiences, as opposed to unnoticed experiencing.

3 A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I, Part IV, Section VI (p. 239, Everyman Edition).

4 Those who have not read Evans' book may find some difficulty in acquiesing to this rather radical thesis on the strength of my summary of it, and perhaps much of what follows could be accepted without accepting this identification of the self with the background of consciousness. However, an acceptance of this identification has, it seems to me, real explanatory power in revealing the aptness which is apparent in many of the idioms with which we describe the various feelings and conscious states which are the subject of this essay.

5 Mental and Moral Science, III, I 8 1886