Everybody (including @Richard Branson) says that happiness is the most important thing: the end for which every other end is a means, and which is not a means for any other end.
What if everybody is wrong?
Aristotle affirmed that happiness is the only thing that humans desire for its own sake, unlike riches, honor, health or friendship. He observed that men seek riches, honor, health, or friendship not for their own sake but in order to be happy: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
The same Aristotle, however, also declared: “Plato is dear to me, but dearer still is truth.”
I wonder which was dearest to Aristotle: happiness or truth? And, more importantly, which of these is dearest to you?
I bet that you want to be truly happy—we all do. But what if truth doesn’t make you happy?
Would you rather live in an unhappy reality or a happy unreality?
A Happy Thought Experiment
Picture me in front of you, arms extended, palms up, a red pill in one hand, a blue pill in the other: “This is your last chance, (your name here). After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill; your troubles end here. You fall asleep and dream happy dreams for the rest of your life. You take the red pill; you stay awake and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember, all I am offering you is the truth; nothing more.”
Assume that the blue pill will give you a permanent, perfect feeling of happiness. Assume further that this feeling comes without any adverse effects whatsoever. If you take the blue pill, you will always experience exactly what you need to experience to be as happy as you could possibly be, including the “certainty” that you are in control of your “real” life.
Meanwhile your body will be kept in suspended animation, perfectly safe and healthy, for the same amount of time that you would have lived had you not taken the blue pill.
You will not know that you live in a dream. You will forget that you took the blue pill. Wonderland will seem perfectly real to you. You will think, with no chance of ever learning otherwise, that you are, really, really happy.
Would you take the pill?
If you wouldn’t, why not?
If It Makes You Happy, It Can’t Be That Bad…
I wouldn’t take the pill; neither would I give it to my children: Truth is more important to me than happiness.
Yet, when my wife introduced our kids to Santa Claus as if he were a real character, I colluded. I let them take the blue pill without saying a word. I even helped them collect grass for the reindeer! I couldn’t withstand their beaming little faces as they listened in rapture, and as they opened Santa’s presents the next morning.
I wanted them to be happy; even at the expense of the truth.
A few years ago, we decided it was time to give our youngest daughter, Michelle, the red pill. When my wife told her that Santa was not real, she burst into tears. “Mommy!” she cried, “couldn’t you have waited another year to break my heart?” (I am afraid she inherited some of her father’s penchant for drama.)
I regret misleading my children, even for the sake of their happiness. Had I known then what I know now, I would have expressed my love and wonder without resorting to fantasy. Myths brighten consciousness as poetry, but darken it as pseudo-science.
The Truth Shall Set Us Free
I see a myriad of blue pills distributed in companies every day: glowing reviews that rate everybody above average, killer applications that are just vaporware, lofty missions that mean nothing, and so on.
These fabrications, barely more credible than Santa’s, are always justified by an argument from effect. They are good because they make people happy; they are good because they give people energy; they are good because they bring people hope.
That is bondage.
The alternative is an argument from reality. Truth is good because it guides our actions; truth is good because it lets us to manifest who we really are in the real world; truth is good because it allows us to search for meaning. The truth need not make us happy, give us energy, or bring us hope to be good. The truth must only be logical and empirical; it must fit the rationality of our minds and the evidence of our senses.
The true is always good. The good is always true. Knowing reality as it is is moral. It is the ultimate respect for the human soul.
This is freedom.
Take the red pill.
Fred Kofman, PhD. in Economics, is Professor of Leadership and Coaching at the Conscious Business Center of the University Francisco Marroquín and a faculty member of Lean In. He is the author of Conscious Business, How to Build Value Through Values (also available as an audio program.)