August 4, 2011

Fat, Dumb and Happy…

To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.  ~Gustave Flaubert

So, what does this mean? Let’s dissect it literally:


1. delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing: to be happy to see a person.

2. characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy: a happy mood; a happy frame of mind.

3. favored by fortune; fortunate or lucky: a happy, fruitful land.

4. apt or felicitous, as actions, utterances, or ideas.

5. obsessed by or quick to use the item indicated (usually used in combination): a trigger-happy gangster. Everybody is gadget-happy these days.


1. lacking ordinary quickness and keenness of mind; dull.

2. characterized by or proceeding from mental dullness; foolish; senseless: a stupid question.(this is taking too long, let’s speed it up…)

3. tediously dull, especially due to lack of meaning or sense; inane; pointless: a stupid party.
4. annoying or irritating; troublesome: Turn off that stupid radio.
5. in a state of stupor; stupefied: stupid from fatigue.
1. devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.
2. characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself: selfish motives.

3.  self-interested, self-seeking, egoistic; illiberal, parsimonious, stingy.

1. the general condition of the body or mind with reference to soundness and vigor: good health; poor health.
2. soundness of body or mind; freedom from disease or ailment: to have one’s health; to lose one’s health.
3. a polite or complimentary wish for a person’s health, happiness, etc., especially as a toast: We drank a health to our guest of honor.
You can look deeply at Flaubert’s quote and study the various ways to interpret the words. But, he wrote it in French, right? So, let’s just take it at face value for starters. Flaubert says that good health, selfishness and stupidity are requirements for happiness, but that stupidity is the most important.
So, we’ll all agree being healthy is a good thing and not being healthy makes you unhappy. Don’t we hear people saying “That illness made me appreciate my life. Thanks for that.” Or, some variation on that?
Ayn Rand wrote all about the value of selfishness. But, we love to give. We love to share. We love not being selfish, don’t we?
And, stupidity does not necessarily equate to happiness, does it? It’s a level of awareness, isn’t it? You see, words shape our thoughts.
Here’s what I think. I think Flaubert’s saying that you must be stupid to be happy because there’s so much that can bring you down, that unless you’re stupid, you’ll be sad.
So, if you look at stupidity literally, as the definition above states, it’s characterized by a “dullness of mind”. Do we need to dull our minds if we’re not already stupid?
Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about meditation in “Wherever you go, there you are”. He says a mistake people often make when they learn to meditate is to tell everyone how great meditation is.  So, in a way, that is provocative. Is it selfish to keep such a discovery to yourself? What’s the harm in telling others about your discovery?
Descartes is famous for his thoughts about reality, among many other things. Is there an impact from our actions? I think you can twist reality many different ways, but there’s the here and now and whatever that means to you, that reality is yours to have and to hold.
So, I ask you – how do you interpret Flaubert’s quote?
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Michael Levin  |  Contribution: 8,240