Le bonheur suisse, again

Michael Lambek


It is not obvious or straightforward to write about happiness or even to know who or what the subject of our description should be: an individual or a society; a moment, an event, or a life; a semantic category or an embodied experience? Is happiness reached through struggle or found in complacency? It could be considered as an emotion or a virtue, as psychological or social, individual or collective, evanescent or long term, an ideal or a condition. This article finesses some of these distinctions, addressing happiness through the life of a single individual, a retired Swiss farmer. It inquires into happiness in a society that is generally known for its wellbeing, order, and prosperity, but also for its work ethic and perhaps for being boring, confronting stereotypes while implicitly showing the way individual and collective happiness are interconnected. In a series of informal conversations, the elderly farmer describes his life and the things that made him happy, including his cattle, building his farm and devolving it fairly to his children, and attending the Sennenball  (the annual midsummer cowherds’ ball) of his youth. He was able to participate in the public life of his Gemeinde  (municipality) and canton (Appenzell Ausserrhoden) and he epitomizes the ideal liberal citizen in a political sense. I conclude that I have described a good and happy life, one in which the temporal and ethical dimensions align. In my portrait, happiness can be considered, following Aristotle’s remark, as good activity not amusement and deriving from the exercise of the capacities, as described by Macpherson.


happiness, a life, Switzerland, Appenzell, ethics, succession, civic engagement

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau5.3.007