Happiness — Dr. Pangloss was right after all

This was a frontispiece of Voltaire's Candide,...
This was a frontispiece of Voltaire’s Candide, or Optimism. It reads, “Candide, or Optimism. Translated from the German of Dr. Ralph.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was first in university I took a course in “intellectual history” — or some such grandly labelled conceptual course — where we studied the works of various big name philosophers like Rousseau, Locke, Marx, Voltaire, and others. Mostly I forget the others. Actually I’ve forgotten pretty much everything of what we studied so many years ago, however one memory that has always stood out was Voltaire’s character Dr. Pangloss in his story “Candide”.

While I don’t remember much of the story of Candide, what I do remember what that Pangloss’s response to every situation was to say something to the effect of “it is the best of all possible outcomes” or “the best of all possible worlds”, no matter what tragedy befalls them. In particular I recall a scene in the book where Pangloss, Candide and their traveling companions have been caught by cannibals and are in a large pot being boiled for dinner when Pangloss starts up (again!) about how in reality it is all for the best….

While I was amused by all that, I have always been captured by this Panglossian view of things and certainly find myself always trying to see the upside of any situation (or as Monty Python sings, “…always look on the bright side of life…”). For whatever reason, Pangloss has always stuck with me through the (many, many) ensuing years…

The other day I was exploring some TEDtalks and I came across a couple that for me made the Pangloss approach more real than I have ever imagined — so to bring this all home to you, here is a 21 minute TEDtalk by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert that examine the underlying science behind “happiness” and what makes us happy. And in a nutshell, it seems that Pangloss was on to something after all… enjoy!

And in the same vein, this TEDtalk (by Shawn Achor, clocking in about about 12 minutes) is both thought-provoking and really quite funny. So take a few minutes and chuckle your way through this one also…


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