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Endless Happiness: Confessions of a Recovering Addict


I set out to write about how to be happy, and my questions about happiness led me to a consideration of addiction because I began to notice a fundamental similarity: Like addicts, we mortals suffer a dependence on finite substances for our joy, and their passing away always brings a comedown. To think through the implications of this parallel, I went to Augustine's Confessions—one of the most poignant and impactful reflections on the relationship between finitude and happiness in the Western philosophical tradition. My original research question, "What does it mean for a human to be happy?" transformed through my readings of Augustine into: If being human is, as we say, a "condition" then what are its symptoms, and, furthermore, what would it mean to recover from it? I analyze Augustine's own attempt to come to terms with the fact that, for us mortals, being happy means having something to lose. In this thesis, I retell Augustine’s autobiographical conversion narrative as a story of addiction and recovery. My method is redescriptive: I do not aim to abstract out and critique his “claims” or even to situate them in their historical context but to feel his pain as best I can to demonstrate that today’s concerns about cultural addiction to consumption and entertainment have deep and unlikely roots within the Western philosophical and theological tradition—roots that underlie an entire family tree of “existential” thinkers, including even those who would not acknowledge any real affinity among themselves. I attempt to uncover these roots not only as a matter of intellectual history but also, and primarily, in service to my broader interests in questions regarding happiness and the will.

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